Friday, September 18, 2009

The Untrue Story of How Oprah Chose Say You're One of Them for Her Book Club

Oprah Winfrey finally did it. For the first time ever, she picked a short story collection, Uwem Akpan's Say You're One of Them, for Oprah's Book Club. Thank you, Oprah, I hope this won't be the last. Followers of this blog, who number in the low dozens, may remember that I've been lobbying for her to do this for more than a year, and obviously my efforts have been effective. In fact, now the top secret behind-the-scenes negotiations can be revealed.
Somewhere in New Jersey. The official Story Prize phone (i.e., my cell phone) vibrates on a hot August night.
LD: Hello?
OW: Hello, Larry Dark. It's Oprah.
LD: Oprah who?
LD: Just kidding, Oprah Winfrey. The most influential person in America. A thousand apologies, she who sells more books than anyone.
OW: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I understand you think I should pick a short story collection for my book club.
LD: I do, indeed.
OW: I think I'm ready. What were you thinking of?
LD: How about In the Gloaming?
OW: Isn't that a Christopher Reeve movie? What else?
LD: Well, Ron Hogan thought you were going to choose Edward P. Jones's All Aunt Hagar's Children a few months ago. That's a good one.
OW: You know Ron Hogan?
LD: Who doesn't?
OW: What else?
LD: Did I mention The Dew Breaker? The Hill Road? The Stories of Mary Gordon? Like You'd Understand, Anyway? Our Story Begins?
OW: You did.
LD: Let me think about what your readers might like.
OW: Something powerful and moving like In the Gloaming.
LD: Hmmm. Well, there's another book I read last year that might be perfect.
OW: Namely?
LD: Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian priest with an MFA from Michigan. It's well written, describes terrible events in the lives of children, and, to quote myself: "Any of the six stories in this collection set in Africa is enough to break a reader's heart."
OW: Perfect. Be sure not to tell anyone, especially not Ingram. They're sure to blow it.
LD: I promise. And, by the way, don't worry about what Rob Spillman thinks.
OW: I won't worry about anything, Larry Dark. Thanks for all your critical wisdom.
LD: Thank you, Oprah Winfrey--for being you.
That's pretty much how it happened--in my dreams. In any event, I'm thrilled that Oprah has chosen a short story collection. I've been reading some great ones so far this year. The short story continues to gain momentum, and this is a huge boost.