5 Questions with Okey Ndibe, Author of Never Look an American in the Eye

never-look-an-americanOn Thursday, October 18th at 7pm, we are thrilled to welcome back the acclaimed Okey Ndibe to City Lights Bookstore. Okey will be discussing and celebrating the release of his new book, Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American from Soho Press. Okey answered our 5 Questions. More information on him, and his answers, below.

Event: Thursday, October 18th at 7pm. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American: Okey Ndibe’s funny, charming, and penetrating memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential—but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency—African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe’s relationships with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an incident of racial profiling just 13 days after he arrived in the US, in which he was mistaken for a bank robber; considers American stereotypes about Africa (and vice-versa); and juxtaposes African folk tales with Wall Street trickery. All these stories and more come together in a generous, encompassing book about the making of a writer and a new American.

About Okey Ndibe: Okey Ndibe first arrived in the US to take up appointment as the founding editor of African Commentary, a magazine published by the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. He has been a visiting professor at Brown University, Connecticut College, Simon’s Rock College, Trinity College, and the University of Lagos (as a Fulbright scholar). The author of Foreign Gods, Inc., Ndibe served on the editorial board of Hartford Courant where his essays won national and state awards. He earned MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in West Hartford, CT, with his wife, Sheri, and their three children.


City Lights:  If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Okey Ndibe: My memory was the harmony among the books (they seemed to sing exultantly) and the amazing warmth of the setting of the reading: a sense of intimate closeness between the readers, books, and I.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

ON: It was in pre-school, a primer, sometime in the 20th century. It began, “Obi is a boy. Ada is a girl.” I was absolutely charmed by those lines. But what 21st-century being still remembers the title of a book they read in the dim 20th Century, eh? Right now, I’m reading Teju Cole’s exquisite essays, Known and Strange Things.

CL: Which three books would you never part with?

ON: The Bible, Collected Shakespeare, Things Fall Apart.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

ON: Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

ON: In my hometown of Amawbia in southeastern Nigeria. I’d call it, Kaodiechi Books, invoking the praise name of my grandfather, a man I never met, but whose legend was that he was the first person from his town to speak the English language. It’s a funny, complicated story, and I tell it in Never Look an American in the Eye.

Please join us in welcoming Okey on Thursday, October 20th. Be sure to check out his website, and get Never Look an American in the Eye direct from Soho Press, from City Lights, or at your local independent bookseller. To keep up to date on our fall events, visit our complete event calendar.



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