Uwem Akpan’s Debut Novel, New York, My Village, Is Partly About the Literary Life

Thirteen years after his bestselling collection Say You’re One of Them, the Nigerian Catholic priest is back.
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Uwem Akpan's New York, My Village.

Uwem Akpan's New York, My Village.

Uwem Akpan, acclaimed author of the 2008 story collection Say You’re One of Them, returns after 13 years with a novel, his debut, New York, My Village. It is the story of Ekong Udousoro, a Nigerian editor who, in a bid to come to terms with the disturbing recent history of his homeland, decides to curate a collection of stories that revolves around the Biafran War of 1967-70.

Udousoro is excited when he gets a publishing fellowship in Manhattan, where, at once, he is learning how the publishing business works and working on his project. However, things are not always as they seem. Udousoro is soon exposed to the very uncomfortable baseline of the publishing business—particularly the racism.

Described by its publisher WW Norton as “[a] dearing first novel in the great picaresque tradition,” the 400-page New York, My Village is deeply humorous and intensely scalding.

Uwem Akpan. Credit: University of Florida.
Uwem Akpan. Credit: University of Florida.

The novel came from, among other reasons, Akpan’s fascination with place. “New York City has always mystified me since I first spent two weeks in the Bronx in 1993,” he says on his website. “It was only when I lived in Manhattan in 2013 that I began to understand the metro system, to visit the different neighborhoods, to enjoy the endless ethnic dishes. It didn’t also take long before I discovered the city’s crazy underbelly.”

Uwem Akpan, a Catholic priest, currently teaches in the University of Florida’s MFA Program. His collection, Say You’re One of Them, won the Commonwealth Prize (Africa Region), the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the Open Book Prize. It was the 2009 Oprah Book Club selection. The book was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal No. 1 bestseller and has been translated into 12 languages.

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New York, My Village is published by WW Norton in November 2021.

Ernest Ogunyemi
Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí was a staff writer at Open Country Mag. His works have recently appeared/are forthcoming in AGNI, Joyland, No Tokens, Olongo Africa, The Dark, Fiyah, Agbowó, Southern Humanities Review, Minnesota Review, McNeese Review, Down River Road, and West Trade Review. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology.

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