Thursday, February 1 marked the beginning of St. Lawrence University’s spring semester Writers Series in Sykes Common Room.
Okey Ndibe, 2017-2018 Viebranz Professor of Creative Writing at SLU, was the first of four writers to present this semester. Ndibe was introduced to a full audience by long-time friend and colleague, SLU Dana Professor of Art and Art History, Obiora Udechukwu, who called Ndibe a “master of words” in writing and storytelling.
Ndibe began his time by sharing stories about his youth spent writing letters in Nigeria, which was followed by his arrival to the United States where he became the founding editor of African Commentary, a short-lived international magazine. He continued to tell how his passion for reading in American bookstores resulted in him writing a novel and gaining a fellowship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
From there, Ndibe read a short section of his memoir aloud, “Never Look an American in the Eye,” about one of his first encounters in America with the police. He continued his time by sharing more experiences about his beginnings in the United States, discovering how uneducated Americans were about Africa and its people, something he refers to as “cultural amnesia.”
He explained how this drama influenced his second novel, “Foreign Gods, Inc.,” a parody about the nature to consume the sacred. Nbide read a portion of the novel that described an interaction between a Christian missionary and a Nigerian village in which there is confusion about how God functions in everyday life.
The time ended with a Q&A segment where one audience member asked Ndibe if he thought that satire was becoming a more popular technique to address ignorance. Ndibe said he thinks satire is a more effective way for the reader to have “tiny epiphanies.” When asked for a comment, student Aidan Scagel ’18 said, “I think it was powerful how he [Ndibe] addressed ‘cultural amnesia’ with humor rather than anger.”
The Writers Series Coordinator and SLU English Professor, Natalia Singer, says “The Series is important because it provides liberal arts students and faculty access to live literature, which allows SLU to be part of a larger community since we’re located in an isolated region.”
The next author in the Writers Series is John Edgar Wideman, who is scheduled to present on Thursday, March 8 at 8 p.m. in Sykes Common Room, followed by Stephanie Elizondo Griest on March 29 and Camille Dungy on April 12.