African Jesuit, author of "Say You're One of Them," to speak at Fairfield University Nov. 3


Fr. Uwem Akpan, S.J., an African Jesuit priest and author of "Say You're One of Them," a recently published book that has won acclaim for its searing portrayal of poverty and violence in Africa as seen through the eyes of children, will do a reading from his book and take questions at Fairfield University's Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola on Monday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

Fr. Akpan will visit the Fairfield University campus Nov. 2-5 to meet with faculty and students, including a stop at a Lukacs Gallery exhibit, "A Tribute to Rwanda," created by University College student Kathryn Sorrentino.

Among his public activities will be a book signing at the Rainy Faye Bookstore at 940 Broad Street in Bridgeport on Monday, Nov. 3, from 3 to 5 p.m., and a discussion on writing about good and evil on Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m., in the Dolan School of Business Dining Room, presented by the Center for Catholic Studies.

In this debut collection, which has received wide acclaim, Fr. Akpan sets each of five stories in a different African country. In the title story, a Rwandan girl of mixed Hutu and Tutsi lineage, after witnessing the most horrific sight any child could ever see, is told to "Say you're one of them," by a desperate parent hoping to save the girl from what appears certain death.

Other stories involve a Kenyan street family where a 12-year-old girl works as a prostitute to support her family, a teenage Muslim boy fleeing the violence of northern Nigeria, and a brother and sister from Benin, literally fattened up for human trafficking.

"Publishers Weekly" said Fr. Akpan "transports the reader into gritty scenes of chaos and fear ... set in war-torn Africa," while The New York Times called the book a "startling debut collection" that "fuses a knowledge of African poverty and strife with a conspicuously literary approach to storytelling."

Born in a village in Nigeria to parents who were both teachers, Fr. Akpan grew up reading the abridged editions of Shakespeare and the Brontës and listening to the village elders, who gathered after Mass every Sunday to drink palm wine and tell long tales. He entered the Jesuit order at 19, and began writing about 10 years later, while still a seminarian.

He studied philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga Universities and then theology for three years at the Catholic University of East Africa. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. He currently teaches in Zimbabwe.

Father Akpan's visit is being sponsored by the Office of Student Diversity Programs, Office of Catholic and Jesuit Mission & Identity, Center for Catholic Studies, Center for Faith and Public Life, Peace & Justice Studies, International Studies, President's Institutional Diversity Council, Writing Program, and Office of New Student Programs.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 24, 2008

Vol. 41, No. 104