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OPINION: Chris Abani And Graceland

There are two interesting schools of literary criticism: One is called "New Historicism," and the other "New Criticism." New Historicism holds that very piece of literature completely stands on its own while New Criticism contends that outside sources may be helpful or necessary in order to fully understand a text.

As far as I'm concerned, I tend to agree with the New Critics.

Since every text has an author, the author's biography, among other sources, may furnish certain key information to the understanding of the text, and the meaning behind the text.

One afternoon, he found himself in another tough situation: Only ten minutes into the presentation of his university play Song of a Broken Flute, he got arrested.

Chris Abani's novel Graceland is one of the best examples that could illustrate this point of view.

Chris Abani was born in Nigeria in 1967. He started to write poetry at a very early age. In fact, his first novel appeared when he was only 16 years old. But unfortunately, two years later (Abani then 18), he found himself in a political prison cell because his novel was considered a "threat to the national security." He was released six months later after the Nigerian government had faced serious criticism and pressure from militants and civil rights groups from all over the world, including Nigeria itself.

After his release, Abani joined a guerrilla theatre group which went as far as performing plays in front of government buildings. Once again, Abani got arrested, and there were rumors that he would be this time severely mistreated in prison. He was released a few months later.

In 1990, after this tragic episode, Abani decided to complete his education. He became a university student. One afternoon, he found himself in another tough situation: Only ten minutes into the presentation of his university play Song of a Broken Flute, he got arrested.

This time, he had to sign a strange contract in which he would have to choose between his own life and his fellow students'. He decided to go to death row in order to save the rest of the students. But fortunately, Abani did not get executed although many of his prison comrades either died of natural complicated causes or simply got executed.

So, Abani's novel Graceland reflects the calamities of his life to a large extent. Although he never presents it as an autobiography, while reading this novel one can sense certain traits of his early life in Nigeria, and his fate later as a militant writer.

His novel Graceland - which is named after Elvis Presley's mansion "Graceland"- depicts the life of a miserable 16 old named Elvis Oke. He was a street dancer and taught himself to read. Young, courageous, and ambitious, he had an ardent desire to imitate his artistic idol: Elvis Presley. Therefore, he started to make a living out of this (trying to imitate Elvis Presley's artistic performance) in the countryside of Afikpo, then the neighboring city of Lagos. By the way, in Afikpo and Lagos, there were not too many job opportunities for him.

However, the young Elvis Oke didn't take long to realize that his artistic performance could not feed him and his family, and therefore started trying new ways to make a living. So, he will try to play Reggae music, become interested in the American film industry, and even try to sell images of American heroes and celebrities.

Chris Abani's novel Graceland shows the ambition and the determination of a young man in search of his "graceland." Although the novel portrays nothing graceful or interesting about the town of Afikpo, the protagonist's hometown, it at least depicts the dream of a young man in search of his paradise. Indeed, as America represents to most of the world the land of opportunities, Elvis Oke chooses to make a living in his native Africa by taking America as both a medium and a model.

And considering the fact that Chris Abani himself actually lives in America after having endured so much suffering and persecution in his own country, doesn't this relate him to his novel's main character Elvis Oke?

Adapted from an Opinion by Jean Elie Paraison as submitted to www.thecoolgroup.org

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Quickly Witty

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My wife and I had words, but I didn't get to use mine.

As my five year old son and I were headed to McDonald's one day, we passed a car accident. Usually when we see something terrible like that, we say a prayer for those who might be hurt, so I pointed and said to my son, "We should pray." From the back seat I heard his earnest request: "Please, God, don't let those cars block the entrance to McDonald's."

Frustration is trying to find your glasses without your glasses.

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.

The irony of life is that, by the time you're old enough to know your way around, you're not going anywhere.

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Ken Keyes Jr.



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