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Global Centre for Pluralism’s Annual Lecture delivered by Ethiopian Novelist Maaza Mengiste .

Co-presented by  the Global Centre for Pluralism and the University of British Columbia

Ottawa, Canada, 19 May 2021 – Award-winning author of The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste,  delivered the 8th Annual Pluralism Lecture today. Maaza Mengiste is a critically acclaimed novelist and essayist whose work examines the individual lives at stake during migration, war, and exile. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and lived in Nigeria and Kenya before moving to the United States. Mengiste’s debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze (2010), was named one of The Guardian’s Ten Best Contemporary African Books. Her latest novel, The Shadow King (2019), was called “one of the most beautiful novels of the year” by National Public Radio.  It was a Booker Prize finalist in 2020.

Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism, remarked,  “We are thrilled to have Maaza Mengiste deliver this year’s Annual Pluralism Lecture. Her writing tackles issues at the very heart of pluralism – collective memory, historical narratives and identity — and offers us the opportunity to learn about how to build and strengthen societies where everyone belongs .... This is so critically important. Literature can help us see past the polarisation and politicisation of these issues, to bring us to a more constructive place.”


Maaza Mengiste.

The Annual Pluralism Lecture series presents an opportunity to learn from extraordinary individuals whose work exemplifies pluralism in action. Past lecturers have included South African freedom fighter Justice Albie Sachs; then Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin; and current UN Secretary-General António Guterres, among others.

Princess Zahra Aga Khan, a board member of the Global Centre for Pluralism, introduced the lecture. “The pandemic, and the inequalities it has surfaced, are a stark reminder of the urgency with which we must come together across our differences to build a more inclusive recovery,” she said. “We see the emotional and social toll that conflict can take, mirrored today in so many societies, from Syria and Yemen to Myanmar.”

Dr. Santa J. Ono, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia, said, “In striving for a better world, it is essential to unpack and carefully consider the difficult, sometimes painful, lessons from our past. By learning from those mistakes, and addressing them with tangible solutions that benefit all, we can move forward towards more pluralistic societies, together.”

More information about the event is available here:

For more information:

Calina Ellwand
Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Global Centre for Pluralism


The Global Centre for Pluralism is an independent, charitable organization founded by His Highness the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada. The Centre works with policy leaders, educators and community builders around the world to amplify and implement the transformative power of pluralism. For more information, visit

The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. Since 1915, UBC’s entrepreneurial spirit has embraced innovation and challenged the status quo. UBC encourages its students, staff and faculty to challenge convention, lead discovery and explore new ways of learning. At UBC, bold thinking is given a place to develop into ideas that can change the world.

Related Events:

Ahead of the Annual Pluralism Lecture, Maaza Mengiste spoke to University of British Columbia students and community members about her book, The Shadow King, in an online masterclass as part of the UBC Connects programming, on May 18, 2021. More details about this event are available at: