‘It is not my responsibility to teach morals’

Lesley Nneka Arimah

Book chats create platforms for the readers, critics and publishers to interact with writers and discuss the universe of their books. It creates various perspective of understanding and appreciation of the book. One of such events was recently organised by Orpheus Literary Foundation in Abuja in collaboration with Farafina Reads at The Booksellers. The guest writer was Lesley Nneka Arimah, author of the critically acclaimed short story collection, What It Means for a Man to Fall from the Sky.

The book is thought-provoking and an amazing read and many participants agreed that Arimah’s book is deep and mysterious and offers readers many things to think about.

Arimah walked quietly into the bookstore quite early and ahead of the audience and asked the book attendant in her almost African-American accent, “Please, do you have a copy of What It Means for a Man to Fall from the Sky?” She wasn’t disappointed either. She got a copy, along with a friend. Then she scouted the shelves for other contemporary novels in the bookstore, one of the finest in the city of Abuja. Not even the bookstore attendant, Mallam Abubakar Dauda, knew he’d interacted with the author already. So that when he asked about the author, he was amazed he had spoken with her without knowing it. Not long after, the discourse got underway.

Arimah’s short story collection has 13 stories with themes that range from parent-child relationships, unwanted pregnancy to miscalculation and the impossibility of certain challenges. In Arimah’s stories, you encounter humour versus horror, wild versus weird amongst other hunting and daring themes.

As the discourse progressed, the author, who read three stories from her collection, also responded to many of the interesting questions audience members asked her. One of such questions was if she wrote to teach morals and the author stated: “It is not my responsibility as a writer to teach morals. I just want to tell good stories. However, if along the line, we learn one or two things from the stories, then it’s fine!”

Another remarkable fallout from the book chat was the fact that critics in the house also observed that the publisher, Kachifo, did not include the author’s biography. They requested that in subsequent editions, the author’s bio or short profile should be captured so readers can easily place her. In her response, Arimah said she was less concerned about her bio but that the publisher may consider including it if there was need for a second edition.

Also, participants who felt a kinship with one or two of the stories said they were elated to meet the author in person and they took the opportunity to ask her why she wrote her stories the way she did. They also wanted to find out her favourite stories in the collection and if she had a direct connection with any of the stories.

One of the literary editors in the house, Mike Ekuno, also observed that though Arimah is not yet popular in Nigeria, he considered it daring for her not to have a blurb in the book. He felt the absence of a blurb was not good for the marketing hype the book needs to sell. He said, “The issue of blurb writing has become something of a heated debate in Nigeria and the literary circle” and congratulated the author for her boldness in this regard.

Other guests also approached the book from a multicultural perspective and commended Arimah’s choice of language, with one confessing, “It is one of the fine literary works I have read in recent times” and “I like the cover design,” another said.

A member of Orpheus Literary Foundation and attendant at Booksellers Ltd, Dauda, said, “Book chats are not only important for discussing the universe of the book but important also for reviving the dwindling reading culture. Orpheus Literary Foundation feels moved to use the bookstore to introduce and expose the reading public to serene ambience and to also encourage the buying of books. Truthfully, many of those who attended today’s event confessed they just got to know about the bookstore and would continue to come back to pick books from time to time.”

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Lesley Nneka Arimah


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