Say You're One of Them Webcast Transcript
Oprah: That's really what the stories are about, right?
Uwem: It is. Because my stories are about families.
Uwem: And groups. And how we negotiate, you know, who is inside? Who is outside? It's very painful in a family if you don't feel you belong. If you don't connect with your mom and you are a teenager, it's very painful, you know? And it's almost—there's no where to go. Teachers know this very well because they see this daily in high schools.
Uwem: Yeah. So for me it's very important. But also after a while I'll say what I think adults should do for their families.
Oprah: Well, the third story in this book is "What Language Is That?" Jocelyn mentioned this earlier. It's about two little girls from different faiths who are best friends and they don't understand why their parents suddenly decide to keep them apart. So how did this story come to you?
Uwem: (Laughter.) It's funny because this story I...
Oprah: You have a very funny laugh.
Uwem: I had promised Little, Brown five stories.
Oprah: Your publisher.
Uwem: My publisher.
Uwem: And now I had four.
Uwem: And I was like how do I write a fifth story, you know. I'm going to attempt to write something very short and I'm, like, I'm going to attempt to make it very different from the others in terms of who is speaking. Ultimately I can't figure out who the narrator is. I don't know. So that's how that story came together. The second person narrator. And then I worked on it, it came together, my, my teacher tried to say, you know, make it into a first person, you know, narrator. I said, "No, I think it makes this story stand out." But other than the format of the structure, I'm always very concerned about, you know, friendships. What happens when we come together as friends? What breaks, you know, this friendship?
Oprah: Yeah. It's what Jocelyn was saying earlier that really friends have their own language. What is the language we speak.
Oprah: We have two best friends who are Skyping in from New York City. They're Carolyn and Patrick. Hi, guys.
Patrick: Hi, Oprah.
Oprah: You want to talk about this story?
Patrick: Yeah, we, like you said, we're best friends. We lived together, actually, for about four years and just recently a couple months ago moved out into our, went our own ways. And we see each other a little bit less and it's pretty tough and I can't imagine anyone telling us that we weren't allowed to see each other at all because our friendship is so tight.
Carolyn: Yeah, we really, we really related to this story and one of the things we wanted to know was why the two girls? Why did you feel like they were the best to illustrate sort of these different religious groups and this friendship?
Uwem: Yeah, I...
Oprah: Good question, guys.
Uwem: Yeah. I don't know. It could have been a boy and a girl. But it was the last story I had written, and I had done a lot of boy/girl, you know, stuff with other stories. So now I was, like, let me try girl/girl. And, you know, these two girls, you know, best friends, you know, you're my best friend. I don't sit down and work out these things very clearly and then, you know, execute. I kind of experiment and go along. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, I, you know, I leave the story and go do something else and come back. So I don't have a very clear question to—clear answer, you know, to why I picked two girls. It could have been a boy and girl.
Oprah: But it's interesting, you're boy and girl friends and yet read the story about the two girl friends and the energy and spirit of their friendship you related to. So the gender isn't as important as the, the spirit of the friendship.
Carolyn: Well, it was the language, right? Like, I mean, something about best friends, you know, when you're best friends, you can understand each other without sort of speaking. And I think that's what we related to was just this connection that they had.
Patrick: That's why it was so heartbreaking, too, when they were...
Patrick: You know, forbidden to see each other, but they still, they caught those glimpses of each other across the street.