English Department Offers Program Built Around DC-set Novel "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears"

by William Miller

English Department Offers Program Built Around DC-set Novel "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears"

The English Department offers the campus a text and community program for spring semester built around the DC-set novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and concludes in April with a capstone visit by the writer of the selected text, Ethiopian-born novelist Dinew Mengestu.

The novel tells the story of Sepha Stephanos, who fled Ethopia and its revolution for a new start in the States, and who then arrives in Washington a friendless, lonely man. He is isolated until he becomes friends with two other young African men who share his sense of bitter loss and yearning for their homeland. Spurred on by one of his friends, Sepha takes out a loan to open a neighborhood grocery in the Logan Circle area of DC. Gentrification comes to the neighborhood and brings Judith, a white woman, and her biracial daughter, Naomi. Through their friendship, Sepha begins to find hope for himself and his future, and to come to terms with his life. But a series of racial incidents disturbs the neighborhood and takes away the peace Sepha has begun to find. The novel features themes of immigration, resettlement, urban poverty, gentrification and race relations, as well as personal change.

Unlike Sepha’s immigration as an adult, Mengestu came to the States as a child. He graduated from Georgetown University and the Columbia University graduate program in creative writing. He lives in New York and teaches at Georgetown. In 2012, he received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. His next book, a novel entitled All Our Names, is due out in March from Knopf.

Mengestu will come to campus on Tuesday, April 8, for a 7:30 p.m. appearance in the Meese Room of Mason Hall. (A larger venue will be available if the program finds a widespread audience.)

As part of the text and community program, the English Department committee is planning a student essay contest with prizes for winners and their teachers, a faculty discussion of the literary and social themes running through the book, and a January “brown bag” on teaching the book.

The English Department has copies of the novel available for perusing by faculty considering adopting it for a spring course. Contact Stacey Remick-Simpkins for information.