literature & poetry
talks & debates

Maaza Mengiste and Petina Gappah

Hear from the authors on their epic new novels that shed light on lives confined to the shadows of African and European history.

Maaza Mengiste discusses her second novel, The Shadow King, which tells the untold story of Ethiopian women soldiers forced to fight colonial oppression.

Set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King tells of orphan Hirut’s evolution from servant to soldier in a devastating meditation on our capacities for violence and compassion.

Petina Gappah discusses her novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light, which charts a journey through nineteenth-century Africa – following the funeral caravan who bore the explorer David Livingstone’s body.

In Gappah’s radical novel, it is those in the shadows of history – those who saved a white man’s bones; his dark companions; his faithful retinue on an epic funeral march – whose voices are resurrected with searing intensity.

Now, join Mengiste and Gappah as they reflect on what drew them to these distinctive histories.

Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and is a Fulbright Scholar and professor in the MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation programme at Queens College.

Her debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was named one of ten best contemporary African books by The Guardian.

Her work can be found in publications including New Yorker, Granta and the New York Times. Her short story ‘Skylines’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer whose short fiction and essays have been published in eight countries.

Her debut story collection, An Elegy for Easterly, won The Guardian First Book Award in 2009, and her first novel, The Book of Memory, was longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Dates & times

13 May 2020
Approximate run time: 90 mins
Run times may vary, find out more


Purcell Room


Booking fee: £3.50 (Members £0.00)


25% off (limited availability)
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need to know

Age recommendation
For ages 16+

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