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Say You're One of Them
Little, Brown and Company, 2008
368 pp., $23.99
Interview by Susan M. Felch
Uwem Akpan was born in Ikot Akpan Eda in Ikot Ekpene Diocese in southern Nigeria. He was educated in Nigeria, Kenya, Nebraska, Washington, and at the University of Michigan, where he received his Master of Fine Arts degree. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003; in 2007, he began teaching at Arrupe College, a Jesuit school of philosophy and humanities in Zimbabwe. He first came to the attention of the reading public with two short stories in The New Yorker, followed by a collection of stories, Say You're One of Them, published by Little, Brown in 2008 to great acclaim. In April of that year, he spoke with Susan Felch at a session of Calvin College's biennial Festival of Faith and Writing. An edited excerpt from their extended conversation follows.
Are all of the stories in Say You're One of Them like the stories in The New Yorker? Are they all about children from Africa and written from the point of view of these children?
The five pieces—two novellas, two short stories, and one short short story—are all about children, issues that affect children; but what I tried to do was to tell these stories from different perspectives. One of the novellas, "Luxurious Hearses," is narrated in the third person, but it's still about the plight of a child stuck in a bus, traveling from northern Nigeria to southern Nigeria. He was born in the south. The father was a Catholic, the mother was a Muslim. One thing led to another, and the mother ran away with the children up north. The two brothers started practicing Islam at the ages of three and five, and one of them got really deep into Islam and joined a marauding crowd that went around burning churches. At one point, he stole something, and they cut off his hand. Yet he really thought he was a Muslim, until there was a riot in the city, and his friends started saying to him, "You were not born here. You were baptized as a baby. You are not a true Muslim." And they wanted to kill him. So he ran away and joined the Christians ...