Poet and novelist Syl Cheney-Coker was born in Freetown in 1945 and educated at the Universities of Oregon and Wisconsin. He has written extensively about the condition of exile and the view of Africa from an African abroad, and his work has been translated into ten languages.

Among his novels is The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, which was a finalist for the coveted British Commonwealth Prize. Formerly a fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, from 2005 to 2006 he was the Lion Feuchtwanger Fellow at the Villa-Aurora Foundation for European-American Relations in California. In the early 1990s, after living abroad for over a decade, Cheney-Coker returned to Freetown to become editor of The Vanguard, a progressive newspaper.

After the military coup of 1997, he was targeted as a dissident and barely escaped with his life. Cheney-Coker decided to return to a somewhat more stable Sierra Leone in 2003, noting that, “after a while, exile is neither justifiable nor tolerable”.