Uwem Akpan

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Uwem Akpan S.J., image from a reading at the University of San Francisco.
Uwem Akpan S.J., at the University of San Francisco.

Uwem Akpan (born May 19, 1971) is a Nigerian Jesuit priest and writer. He is the author of Say You’re One of Them (2008), a collection of five stories (each set in a different African country) published by Little, Brown & Company. It won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and was picked by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club on September 17, 2009.


Uwem Akpan was born in the southern Nigerian village of Ikot Akpan Eda; his parents were teachers. He and his three brothers grew up speaking both English and Annang.[1] He joined the Jesuit order at the age of 19,[1] in 1990, and in 2000 studied theology in Nairobi, Kenya.[2] He became a priest on July 19, 2003; he later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at the University of Michigan in the United States.[1] He has also studied theology at Creighton University and philosophy at Gonzaga University.[2]

In 2009 Oprah Winfrey recommended Uwem Akpan's Say You’re One of Them as her 63rd influential book club selection. Akpan said he was humbled to learn his debut collection of short stories had caught Winfrey's eye. Winfrey said that Say You're One of Them (published by Little, Brown, 2008), "left [her] stunned and profoundly moved." The five short stories give voice to an African child growing up in the face of incredible adversity.[3] Asked whether there was a conflict between being a priest and being a writer, he said he liked being both: "Both give me energy. Gaudium et spes, a key Vatican II document, makes it very clear that the joys and anguish of the world are the joys and anguish of the Church. The Jesuits have a rich tradition of writing and involvement in social issues."[4]

Entertainment Weekly put the book on its end-of-the-decade "best-of" list, saying: "Against all odds, the Nigerian priest's searing African stories from 2008 imparted both joy and hope."[5]



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