- This event has passed.
Uwem Akpan in conversation with Helon Habila
November 4, 2021 @ 6:00 pmFree
reading from his new novel
New York, My Village
published by W.W. Norton
From a suspiciously cheap Hell’s Kitchen walk-up, Nigerian editor and winner of a Toni Morrison Publishing Fellowship Ekong Udousoro is about to begin the opportunity of a lifetime: to learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry from its incandescent epicenter. While his sophisticated colleagues meet him with kindness and hospitality, he is soon exposed to a colder, ruthlessly commercial underbelly—callous agents, greedy landlords, boorish and hostile neighbors, and, beneath a superficial cosmopolitanism, a bedrock of white cultural superiority and racist assumptions about Africa, its peoples, and worst of all, its food.
Reckoning, at the same time, with the recent history of the devastating and brutal Biafran War, in which Ekong’s people were a minority of a minority caught up in the mutual slaughter of majority tribes, Ekong’s life in New York becomes a saga of unanticipated strife. The great apartment deal wrangled by his editor turns out to be an illegal sublet crawling with bedbugs. The lights of Times Square slide off the hardened veneer of New Yorkers plowing past the tourists. A collective antagonism toward the “other” consumes Ekong’s daily life. Yet in overcoming misunderstandings with his neighbors, Chinese and Latino and African American, and in bonding with his true allies at work and advocating for healing back home, Ekong proves that there is still hope in sharing our stories.
Akpan’s prose melds humor, tenderness, and pain to explore the myriad of ways that tribalisms define life everywhere, from the villages of Nigeria to the villages within New York City. New York, My Village is a triumph of storytelling and a testament to the life-sustaining power of community across borders and across boroughs.
Uwem Akpan’s fiction and autobiographical pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, the Nigerian Guardian, O, The Oprah Magazine, and more. His collection of stories, Say You’re One of Them, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa Region), the PEN Open Book Prize, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was the 2009 Oprah Book Club selection. He is from Ikot Akpan Eda in the Niger Delta in Nigeria and lives in Gainesville, Florida.
Helon Habila is a Nigerian novelist, poet, and editor whose writing has won many prizes, including the Music Society of Nigeria national poetry award, the Caine Prize in 2001, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2003. He is the author of the novels Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time, and Oil on Water. Mr. Habila is also on the board of Africa Writers Trust as well as coordinator of the Fidelity Bank Writers Workshop in Nigeria. He has played an active role in the literary life of the African continent. He worked as a lecturer and journalist in Nigeria before moving in 2002 to England, where he was a Chevening Scholar at the University of East Anglia, and now teaches creative writing at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.
Praise for New York, My Village
“I am in awe. I’m still trying to figure out how Uwem Akpan did it. He has transformed the isolating and exhausting intricacies of war trauma into a compulsively readable novel, at once hilarious, utterly harrowing, profoundly optimistic, and horrifically informative. Unforgettable characters, deeply realistic and “relatable” interpersonal conflicts, a contagious love of life, fresh insights into the crazy-making properties of racist ideology: New York, My Village has it all. And it’s the great bedbug novel of New York City we have all been waiting for, some of us without knowing it! I adored this book.” -Elif Batuman, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Idiot
“A searing sendup of publishing, racial biases, and humanity’s near-infinite capability to look away from the most troubling parts of ourselves, New York, My Village is that rare thing: a funhouse mirror that reflects back the truth. Uwem Akpan’s debut novel maps the constantly shifting ground of grappling with prejudice and guilt—and how we might find connections, and compassion, nevertheless.” -Celeste Ng, New York Times-bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere
“A superb story from a superb writer. The most compelling part of this debut novel of a Nigerian writer’s immersion in American culture and the publishing world is the narrator’s voice, utterly alive, frighteningly observant, deeply compassionate. Once that captivating voice grabs you, from the very first page, you never want to stop listening.” -Father James Martin, SJ, bestselling author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage and Learning to Pray