Uwem Akpan is one of the newest members of the Creative Writing Program
Assistant Professor of English UWEM AKPAN exploded onto the American literary scene in 2005 when his short story “An Ex-Mas Feast” was first published in the debut-fiction issue of The New Yorker.
Set in the slums of Nairobi, the story is told from the viewpoint of a young boy who details the desperate living conditions of his family, focusing heavily on his sister — a pre-adolescent prostitute who works to pay off the family’s debt and provide school fees for her brother.
The piece kicks off his breakout 2008 short story collection, Say You’re One of Them, which consists of five stories, each set in a different African nation and told through the eyes of children, that reveal the worst of humanity — poverty, discrimination and genocide — while leaving the possibility for grace.
Akpan joined UF in the fall of 2018 and is one of the newest members of the Creative Writing faculty. The son of teachers, he grew up in the village of Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. As he told Oprah Winfrey, who selected Say You’re One of Them for her book club in 2009, he discovered he had the talent to write fiction when he was 29.
Winfrey praised the book, calling it “one of the most powerful collections of short stories I believe I have ever read.”
Akpan studied philosophy and humanities at Creighton and Gonzaga universities and finished his theology degree at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya. He then graduated from the MFA program at the University of Michigan in 2006. Akpan has held visiting writer positions at the Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage, the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the University of Michigan’s Humanities Institute and the University of Nevada’s Black Mountain Institute.
“I am happy to be here,” Akpan said when asked about his move to UF. “I thank everyone for the hospitality they’ve extended to me since I arrived. And, oh, I love the Spanish moss. It’s everywhere!”
Say You’re One of Them received an overwhelming response for a first book and was reviewed in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Paris Review, among others. The collection also won the PEN Open Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
That’s a tough act to follow, but Akpan is a natural storyteller, with an amazing ear for dialect and a confident authorial voice.
“People keep asking me about my second book,” he said. “I’m not even sure where the setting will be — maybe Africa … maybe even here.”