Young and Privileged, but Writing Vividly of Africa’s Child Soldiers

From The New York Times:

Iwea184 POTOMAC, Md., Nov. 21 – Uzodinma Iweala’s brutal debut novel, “Beasts of No Nation,” is filled with the stink of violence. Mr. Iweala’s own life couldn’t be further removed from his main character’s. Mr. Iweala, or Uzo, as his friends call him, grew up in this Washington suburb. He attended the elite St. Albans School, then Harvard, from which he graduated in 2004. He has perfect posture, a soft, polite voice, a scarf elegantly draped around his neck. He has just turned 23, and he has known little suffering in his young life. From where, then, did this horrifying story about child soldiers in Africa come?

“In my senior year of high school, I read an article in Newsweek about child soldiers in Sierra Leone,” said Mr. Iweala, sitting in the large living room of his parents’ home, his voice still hoarse from yelling at the Harvard-Yale football game. “I felt a sense of shock – this was happening in the region where I’m from and people don’t know about it. I wanted to understand.” So he wrote a three-page sketch about a child soldier, then put it away.

At Harvard, Mr. Iweala studied creative writing, learning the basics of character and plot development in fiction. Then, one day in his junior year, Mr. Iweala, who was co-president of the African Students Association, heard a speaker, China Keitetsi, describe her experiences after being kidnapped at 9 and forced to fight in the Ugandan civil war. Afterward, Mr. Iweala said, he told Ms. Keitetsi that his parents wanted him to go to medical school. “She said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting; I have no parents.’ ”

Deeply moved by their meeting, he dug up his old sketch and began to expand it. This time “it just flowed,” he remembered.

More here.