Writer and priest: Akpan's dual dream

Writer and priest- Akpan's dual dream.jpg

Oprah's latest book club selection is Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan. Her selection is noteworthy because it's the first time she has selected a book of short stories, and because he is a Nigerian Jesuit priest. Although I've not read the book yet, I was much moved by his story "Communion" in the Faith and Doubt issue of The New Yorker (June 9, 2008). I also heard him speak in 2008 at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing and was very impressed. Akpan told of growing up with a dual dream of being a writer and a priest. He kept praying, "Lord, I have a dream." He became a priest, but didn't have much success at being a writer until he was struck by two verses that changed his thinking. One passage was from Daniel (3:16-18). It's the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. In defiance they say to the king who put them there: God will save us, but even if he doesn't we will still worship him. For Akpan, this reminded him that whether or not God helped him to be a writer, God is still God and he would praise him. The other passage was Micah 1:8: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Up until then, Akpan had been writing things related to adults but then began to think about the children and the injustices they suffered. Who was writing about them? That was the beginning of the short story collection that will now surely be a bestseller.