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Artist Talk: South Africa’s 2018 National Poet Laureate Mongane Wally Serote in Conversation with Chris Abani



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Dr. Serote, a founding member of the Medu Art Ensemble, delivers a poetry reading, reflects on the role of literature in Medu art, and discusses poetry’s broader influence on the revolutionary spirit of South Africa in conversation with poet and writer Chris Abani. This program is presented on the occasion of the special exhibition, The People Shall Govern! Medu Art Ensemble and the Anti-Apartheid Poster.

Presented with the Poetry Foundation

About the Artists

Image of poet and activist Dr. Mongane Wally Serote, a middle-aged gentleman wearing a brown jacket and blue shirt holding a gold award he had won for his poetry. The background is a gold wall.

Dr. Mongane Wally Serote

Photo by Lisa Hnatowicz/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Exiled South African poet and novelist Mongane Wally Serote grew up under apartheid in Sophiatown, now a white suburb of Johannesburg. Politically active, he was held without trial in solitary confinement for nine months under the regime’s Terrorism Act. Serote was barred from reentering South Africa in the late 1970s after earning an MFA at Columbia University while on a Fulbright scholarship. He lived in Botswana before settling in London. 

One of the Soweto “township” poets, Serote writes poems that speak directly to social activism and resistance. His numerous poetry collections include Yakhal’inkomo (The Cry of Cattle at the Slaughterhouse, 1972), No Baby Must Weep (1975), Third World Express (1992), and History Is the Home Address(2004). His novels include To Every Birth Its Blood (1981) and Revelations(2011).

Serote’s honors include the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize, and the Chilean government’s Pablo Neruda Award. He has also served as a member of the South African Parliament.

A black and white photo of poet and writer Chris Abani.

Poet and writer Chris Abani

Chris Abani’s books of fiction include The Secret History of Las Vegas, Song For Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, Graceland, and Masters of the Board. His poetry collections are Sanctificum, There Are No Names for Red, Feed Me The Sun: Collected Long Poems, Hands Washing Water, Dog Woman, Daphne’s Lot, and Kalakuta Republic. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the Hurston Wright Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among many honors. His work has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Romanian, Hebrew, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Dutch, Bosnian, and Serbian.

Closed Captioning P

This program is presented with mobile Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) captioning. To access the captions, please visit

Persons with disabilities who would like to request an accessibility accommodation for an Art Institute program are encouraged to send an email to two weeks in advance of the program. 


Support for public programs is provided in part by the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Made possible by the Frank J. Mooney Memorial Fund


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