Oprah: Welcome to the biggest book club meeting in the world with Say You're One of Them author Uwem Akpan and special guest Anderson Cooper.
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Oprah: Hello, book clubbers. Welcome to our live worldwide book club event.We're coming to you live from Harpo Studios in Chicago.And for the first time, Oprah.com has teamed up with CNN.com, so hello to everyone on Oprah.com and CNN.com. Anderson Cooper, hello to you.
Anderson Cooper: Hey, Oprah, how's it going?
Oprah: Hi. I can actually hear you, Anderson. Anderson will be joining us in just a bit. But here with me is author Uwem Akpan. He is the author of the most powerful collection of short stories that I believe I've ever read. Say You're One of Them, our book club selection.Father Uwem has traveled all the way from his home country of Nigeria to join us tonight. So welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome.
Uwem Akpan: Thank you. I've happy to be here.
Oprah: Well, throughout our webcast, we'll be taking your questions about this beautiful book, Say You're One of Them. Our phone lines are now open. The number to call, 866-695-9999. (Please note: the phone lines are no longer open.) And as you can see, right below this screen, you can e-mail us your questions, too.
Our book club team will be reading all of your e-mails, and they might just call you at home. And for all of you Facebookers, you can post a comment or let me know what you want to ask the author the most. What's your burning question? But before we get started, let's have a quick look at the five stories that make up this brilliant book, Say You're One of Them.
Oprah: Say You're One of Them is an extraordinary collection of short stories set on the continent of Africa. First-time author Uwem Akpan writes each story through the eyes of children and masterfully captures both the innocence and the horror of the unimaginable events these children witness. The first story in the book, "An Ex-Mas Feast," opens with a young boy living on the streets of Nairobi whose 12-year-old sister works as a prostitute to help the family survive. In "Fattening for Gabon," a young brother and sister are held captive by an uncle who has sold them to a child trafficking ring for the price of a motorcycle. "What Language Is That?" begins with two little girls in Ethiopia, one Christian and one Muslim, best friends until religious intolerance by the adults around them threatens to tear them apart. "Luxurious Hearses" is set in Nigeria on an interminable bus ride. A Muslim teenager aboard prays to escape the deadly ethnic violence that is sweeping his city. "In My Parents' Bedroom" is a searing tale of the Rwandan genocide told in the voice of a 9-year-old girl who witnesses the terrifying insanity of her relatives, her village, her country gone mad.
Well, I picked this collection because I think that these stories allow us to move deeply into what really matters in life. The children of this book I know will do the same for so many of you as they did for me, they'll just really break your heart, but I believe in the end also spread your heart wide open. Because as soon as I finished this book, I wanted to track Father Uwem down.I didn't know he was a Father. But I just wanted to track him down because I had some questions for him. Do you remember that call?
Uwem: Yes, I do.
Oprah: Yeah.You were very happy.
Uwem: (Laughter.) I was.
Oprah: Very happy.
Uwem: I was. I was shocked. I was happy. I was, like, wow. That sort of thing.
Oprah: You know, until—as I said to you in that phone call—until I read this book, I'd never been a fan of short stories, and Anderson was here on the show the other day saying the same thing. You know, for the most part... I don't know, a lot of people perhaps love short stories, obviously, but I'm not a fan. And Anderson had said the same thing. He wasn't a fan. But you—you really appreciated this book as well, Anderson.
Anderson: Yeah.I mean, appreciated it to put it mildly. It's one of those books that you open it up and, you know, it's the kind of book maybe a lot of people wouldn't necessarily gravitate to in a book store. It's set in a foreign land, a place many people probably won't go to. There are foreign names in it. But once you make that commitment, once you open it up and start reading the first story, you get sucked into it and you see the commonality in all these people. And even people who are doing terrible things, you can kind of walk in their shoes a little bit. Even in reference to the uncle in "Fattening for Gabon," I mean, he's doing something terrible, but he's also not a completely terrible person. I found that really interesting. And just seeing all these things through the eyes of children really just got to me and just made me kind of look at the issues and the problems and the continent in a whole new way.
Uwem: Thank you, Anderson.
Oprah: Well, what's so interesting, too, is that why, for me, is why you chose the medium of short stories and not just writing a novel or writing from your first-hand experience of these children in situations. Why short stories?
Uwem: I discovered that I had the talent to write fiction 10 years ago and I just went with it and attempted to develop on my own, experimented, pushed, and then somewhere along the way I said to myself, well, it will be nice to go around the continent and write about the difficult situations. Just pick out the difficult situations and try to understand, you know, these things. And then I said to myself, I would like a collection. I would like someone to pick up one book and it's talking about these different issues set in different countries from the perspective of children.