The author chosen for this year’s Big Read, Okechukwu Nzelu, visited Edge Hill University to discuss his book, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, and share his experience and advice with students.
The award-winning author was selected from a shortlist for the 2021/22 edition of the UK-wide university shared reading scheme; Edge Hill University is taking part for the fourth time.
The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney – winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Polari First Book Prize – was published in 2019 and is a tribute to community, faith and forgiveness as well as growing up and growing into ourselves.
Nzelu said: “My book contains characters with a range of backgrounds, experiences and identities but still have something in common with one another. I hope anyone reading the book and can see themselves reflected in characters and feel less alone as a result. I also hope that it helps student settle into University by making them think about the connections they share with each other.”
The Big Read is an award-winning initiative led by Kingston University which creates a sense of community by providing all new undergraduate students at participating universities a free copy of the chosen title, providing a common talking point.
Nzelu praised the Big Read for helping people connect with each other. “Being able to discuss my book with Edge Hill University students is wonderful and such a huge privilege” he said. “I was speaking to students who were saying how it’s helped them – that they got out of it what I really wanted to put in, this sense that this book is for people who need to make friends and feel like they belong. That really means a lot to me.”
MSc Physician Associate Studies student Faaiza Museji said: “I thought it was really engaging, interesting and nice to see a person of colour at Edge Hill University talking about his experience as a British-born person of Nigerian descent. I really identified with what he said which was great.”
Nzelu previously worked as a secondary school teacher, helping students on their way to higher education, and now works as a lecturer, inspiring undergraduates as they begin university life.
Offering his advice to Edge Hill’s students he said: “I’ve always just loved creating stories and as I got older it developed into a passion for writing. My advice to students is to try and have as many experiences as possible, I was surprised to find I loved teaching and my career has developed out of that, so just get out there, enjoy life and you’ll find where you fit in.”
Nzelu’s second novel, Here Again Now, is being published in March 2022. It’s about three Black men and what unfolds following a tragic event. It’s more sombre than his debut, Nzelu explained, but at its heart it’s about love. “It’s about the surprising ways love can find you, and being a better person for the people you love. There’s an inevitability about falling in love – it’s an impulse in all of us that we can’t shake or escape.”
Since Edge Hill has joined the scheme, the Big Read books have been The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman; previous years featured My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, The Humans by Matt Haig and About a Boy by Nick Hornby.
Edge Hill University’s English, History and Creative Writing Department offers courses including Bachelors and Masters degrees in Creative Writing, one of the fastest growing subjects in the curriculum, and options to combine with Drama, English Literature and Film Studies.
April 8, 2022