About Dan Connell
Dan was born in New Orleans in 1944. He grew up in Chicago and New York; married in 1965 while at Hobart College; earned a Masters in Literature at the University at Buffalo in 1968; and lived in Berkeley, Calif.; Warwick, Mass.; and Cambridge, Mass., before the marriage broke up in 1973. Today, he lives in Gloucester, Mass., with graphic designer and photographer Debbie Hird (m. 1995). His daughters—Joanie (b. 1965) and Laura (b. 1968)—live with their families in California and Florida; his son, James Collins (b. 1965), lives with his family in North Carolina.
After university, Dan worked as a carpenter's apprentice, an art & music librarian, a farm-hand, a house painter, an inner-city science teacher, an alternative-high-school administrator, a book-seller and a copy writer—exploring the social landscape and participating in a range of social and political movements whose common threads were an egalitarian ethos and a commitment to social justice. In 1975, he set out for Africa with a backpack, a notebook, and a burning curiosity about people’s struggles for liberation and a drive to write about them.
He made his way to Addis Ababa via Cairo and Khartoum to observe Ethiopia's self-described "socialist" revolution, still at that time supported by the United States, but he soon re-focused on the largely unreported struggle for independence in Eritrea, a former Italian colony that Ethiopia had forcibly annexed in the early 1960s only to become bogged down in a brutal counterinsurgency war.
Hitchhiking on a government convoy, he crossed guerrilla lines to reach the besieged Eritrean capital, Asmara, in April 1976. There, he witnessed the assassination of a high-ranking Ethiopian official and its bloody aftermath: the execution of dozens of civilians. His report on this massacre appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. It is also the opening chapter of his first book, Against All Odds.
Next, he visited guerrilla-held areas of Eritrea, spending five weeks reporting in the war zone. Over the following five years, he returned frequently, writing for The Post, the New York-based Guardian, the BBC, AP, Reuters and other print and broadcast media, often as the only one covering the conflict. Eritrea has remained a central focus of his work ever since, though he has written on social and political issues elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, Central America and the Philippines.
In 1983, after a stint with Oxfam America in Lebanon [see "Lessons from Lebanon 1982-83" on the Articles page of this website], Dan founded and directed the Boston-based development agency Grassroots International to provide aid to social movements in Eritrea, Lebanon, Palestine, South Africa and other conflict areas and to channel information to the media, policymakers and the public.
In 1990, he left Grassroots to write a narrative account of Eritrea’s independence war, Against All Odds. Next came an investigation into post-cold-war social and political movements in Eritrea, South Africa, Palestine and Nicaragua for Rethinking Revolution: New Strategies for Democracy & Social Justice. This project was supported by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
After Eritrea went back to war with Ethiopia over unresolved border issues in 1998-2000, Dan produced a country handbook on Eritrea for the Ministry of Information but clashed with the regime over its increasingly repressive policies. He was ousted from Eritrea in 2002. Afterward, he published "Enough! A critique of Eritrea's post-liberation politics" and Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners, a collection of interviews with the president's jailed critics.
From 2002 to 2014, Dan was a senior lecturer in journalism and African politics at Simmons University, taking student groups to South Africa to write about human rights, while he continued to write analysis and commentary on Eritrea. In 2012, he began a series of investigations into its growing refugee population that took him to camps and communities in 19 countries on five continents. He continues to research and write on these issues as a visiting scholar at Boston University's African Studies Center. The outcome will be a book on the Eritrean refugee experience.
Dan is the author or editor of ten books:
- Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution (1993, 1997).
- Rethinking Revolution: New Strategies for Democracy & Social Justice (2002).
- Eritrea: A Handbook (2002).
- The Proceedings of the 20th Anniversary Conference of the National Union of Eritrean Women (2002).
- Taking on the Superpowers: 1976-1982 (2003)
- Building a New Nation: 1984-2002 (2004).
- Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners (2004).
- Women to Women: Young Americans in South Africa (2006).
- Old Wrongs, New Rights: Student Views of the New South Africa (2008).
- Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2010), coauthored with Tom Killion.
- A 3rd edition of the Historical Dictionary of Eritrea was published in 2019.
He also founded and directed the Cape Ann Forum—a free public lecture series on international issues in his hometown of Gloucester, Massachsuetts—that ran from 2001 to 2019. For a summary of the more than 100 events, click on the Lectures button of this website.
Updated November 2019.
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