Before attending the festival, I hadn't heard of Uwem Akpan. Like a child on Christmas morning, I raced from workshop to workshop, unwrapping gifts of words and ideas. Discovering the writing of this talented Nigerian, Father Akpan, endures as one of my favorites. During a workshop with Mary Karr and Franz Wright, my appetite was whet to know more about this gifted writer.
Mary Karr told a story of wandering into the hotel lobby the night before, and seeing a Jesuit priest wearing a beautiful silk robe sitting there with a huge pizza and liter of Coca-Cola. She woke her friend, Franz, and together the poets joined Uwem and spontaneously shared his pizza and a dynamic conversation from one to four in the morning. (About the baby Jesus, according to Mary. But you have to take everything Mary says with a grain of salt. She’s psycho. If you’re reading this, Mary, I love you. I use the term “psycho” in the nicest possible way.)
Listening to Father Akpan share his writing process, I was struck by his broad smile and rich laughter. I was amazed by his solid faith in God, yes, but more than that, his joy.
It took him five years to write the short story, “My Parent’s Bedroom,” in which he articulates indescribable horror in Rwanda, through the eyes of a child. Keenly sensitive to the fact that he wasn’t there, nor had he ever visited Rwanda, he wrote it and rewrote it, meticulously researching every detail to get the story exactly right.
How does one write about such things without losing hope? (The story is beautiful and powerful and horrible. It will haunt you. You can read it here.)
Akpan’s book, Say You’re One of Them, is due for release this summer.