Oprah Picks Short Story Collection by Uwem Akpan

Adrian Versteegh

For the first time, the world’s most influential reader has given her blessing to a short story collection. Oprah Winfrey—whose imprimatur virtually guarantees best-seller status—announced last Friday that the sixty-third selection for her eponymous book club is the debut Say You’re One of Them (Little, Brown, 2008) by Nigerian author and Jesuit priest Uwem Akpan.

“Normally, I don’t like short stories,” Oprah said in a video message to book club members. “I’m not a big fan, because they always leave me wanting more. But each one of these stories left me really gasping and profoundly moved.” The five pieces collected in Say You’re One of Them, which is set in several African countries, are told from the perspectives of children in distress.

Born in 1971, Uwem Akpan came to the United States to study theology and eventually earned an MFA from the University of Michigan in 2006. An ordained priest and Jesuit college instructor, he currently serves at a church in Ilasamaja-Lagos, Nigeria.

Neither Akpan nor his publisher had long to wait for the so-called “Oprah effect” to kick in on Friday. Only hours after the announcement, Say You’re One of Them had claimed spots among the top five bestsellers on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble Web sites. It currently holds the number six position at Barnes & Noble, the number thirteen spot at Amazon, and the fourth slot among Kindle downloads. Before being tapped by Oprah and despite winning a fistful of prestigious honors (including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and the PEN/Beyond Margins Award), Akpan’s collection—in both hardcover and paperback—had sold only about thirty-two thousand copies, according to Nielson BookScan.


A new world

Well, a new world is opened up. Not only did she choose a short story book, she has opened the door to future use of this genre...