Uzodinma Iweala (born November 5, 1982) is a Nigerian - American author and medical doctor. His debut novel, Beasts of No Nation, is a formation of his thesis work (in creative writing) at Harvard. It depicts a child soldier in an unnamed African country. The book, published in 2005 and adapted as an award-winning film in 2015, was mentioned by Time Magazine, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Times, and Rolling Stone. He later released a novel titled Speak No Evil, published in 2018, which highlights the life of a gay Nigerian-American boy named Niru.
Family and education
The son of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Iweala attended St. Albans School in Washington D.C. and later Harvard College, from which he graduated with an A.B., magna cum laude, in English and American Literature and Language, in 2004. His roommate at Harvard was the future mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. While at Harvard, Iweala earned the Hoopes Prize and Dorothy Hicks Lee Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis, 2004; Eager Prize for Best Undergraduate Short Story, 2003; and the Horman Prize for Excellence in Creative Writing, 2003. He graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2011 and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
Speak No Evil (2018)
In his second novel, Iweala explores the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality and the diaspora through the story of Niru, a Nigerian-American high-school senior living in a middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C., who comes out as gay to his white straight friend Meredith. The first two thirds of the book are narrated by Niru while the last third is narrated by Meredith. Niru must learn how to negotiate his many identities: being a Black man in America, being the child of Nigerian immigrants, coming from a middle-class background, as well as being gay. Niru is forced to confront the many ways in which he is privileged, as well as disenfranchised. Iweala also interweaves themes of religion, cultural dislocation, mental health, police brutality, and more, all of which further add to and further complicate Niru’s life and identities.
Niru comes out to his friend, Meredith, after rejecting her sexual advances. In an attempt to help him, Meredith downloads dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr on Niru's phone and encourages him to set up a date with a man named Ryan. When Niru misplaces his phone, his father discovers it and sees text messages from Ryan, thus outing Niru to his parents. His father responds by beating up Niru and taking him to Nigeria for "spiritual revival", as he calls it. Niru resents his father for this punishment because he hates visiting Nigeria due to how uncomfortable he feels there because of the heat and lack of amenities.
In the second half of Speak No Evil, we continue to see the struggles of intersections that occur with Niru for being a gay, black man in America. His sexuality is difficult to manage because he did not "come out of the closet" on his own terms. As discussed in class, coming out is assumed heterosexuality to a queer identity and something is being hidden if there is no coming out of the closet. This assumed heterosexuality is problematic because it creates an environment for queer people that being yourself is wrong or looked down upon. There are already stigmas and discrimination for identifying as gay, but with the addition to being black, in my opinion, makes the process of coming out and living your true identity twice as difficult. Niru has to combat racism on top of dealing with homophobia.
Upon Niru's return to America, he and his family attempt to go back to normal, as though nothing happened. Niru's father takes his phone and gives him a Nokia phone that has no access to the internet and that can only be used to call. Niru is required to meet weekly with their church's pastor, Reverend Olumide. Niru goes to a party after his first track meet and gets drunk, getting into a fight with Meredith and eventually being taken care of by a stranger (later revealed to be Damien). He eventually begins to form a romantic relationship with Damien, and tries to find a balance between the various worlds and spaces that he exists in: his home and school lives, where he must hide his sexual identity, and the space in which he exists with Damien. Niru begins to distance himself from everyone, including Meredith. During a somewhat sexual encounter with Damien, Niru pushes him away and leaves, leaving their relationship in a tense place. Shortly after Niru makes up with his friend Meredith. Everything comes to a head after Niru's last track meet of the summer. Niru runs away from his father, and eventually ends up going to a club with Meredith, which ends up with him getting shot by the police and dying. The second half of the novel is then told from the perspective of Meredith, and illustrates her struggles, as well as the struggles of Niru's father, to grapple with and comes to terms with the aftermath of Niru's death.
- "Uzodinma Iweala | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Radcliffe.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
- "The Sunday Times". 5 May 2013. Archived from the original on May 5, 2013.
- "Barnes & Noble.com - Uzodinma Iweala - Books: Meet the Writers". 1 September 2007.
- "Uzodinma Iweala on Instagram: "When your college roommate @pete.buttigieg is running for President and texts you at 4:15 like "hey wanna come to the @thedailyshow with me..."". Instagram. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
- Franklin, Marcus (February 11, 2007). "Young Author Iweala Set for Med School". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- "Uzodinma Iweala | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Radcliffe.harvard.edu. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
- "Uzodinma Iweala - Granta Best of Young American Novelists 2". April 30, 2007.
- Audio: Uzodinma Iweala reading from Beasts of No Nation at the Key West Literary Seminar, 2008.
- Audio: Iweala reads from work-in-progress about people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. From Key West Literary Seminar, 2008.
- Radio interview on Bookworm.
- Andrea Sachs, "Galley Girl Catches Up With Uzodinma Iweala" (interview), Time magazine, November 29, 2005.