Oprah Chooses 'Say You're One of Them' for her 63rd Book Club Pick

'Say You're One of Them,' a short-story collection, joins Oprah's book club.

Sept. 18, 2009 — -- Talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey today selected Uwem Akpan's debut collection of short stories, "Say You're One of Them," as her 63rd book-club selection.

This is her first time selecting a collection of short stories.

The collection of five short stories is set in Nigeria, the author's native country, as well as Rwanda and other African countries and focuses on the lives of children living in distress amid war and religious conflict.

Each are told from the perspective of an African child protagonist and depicts "Africa in its glory and grace as well as its horror and pain," Winfrey said.

One of the stories in the collection, "An Ex-Mas Feast," was featured in The New Yorker's debut fiction issue in 2005 and "My Parents' Bedroom," another story in the collection, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing.

"In over 60 books I have never chosen a collection of short stories because usually short stories leave you wanting something," Oprah said today from her live set in New York's Central Park.

"This is a first for me because each one of these five stories just left me gasping," she said, encouraging viewers to "go get a copy of it today."

Akpan, the first-time Nigerian author, was in the crowd at the Oprah taping today but did not speak.

In an interview with his publisher, Hachette Book Group, Akpan said that he hoped his work would bring attention to the lives of children in need.

"I would like to see a book about how children are faring in these endless conflicts in Africa," said Akpan, who is an ordained priest who received a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. "The world is not looking."

"I want their voices heard, their faces seen."

And if the success of Oprah's pervious book club picks is any indication, Akpan's dreams will be realized.

A Rare Honor for Short Stories

As the biggest book club in the world, Oprah's Book Club has nearly 2 million online members and each of its selections has skyrocketed to the top of bestseller lists.

Her last book club pick, David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," was a huge success. Wroblewski's novel remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 39 weeks, a spot that was secured after Oprah blessed his work with her seal of approval.

Wroblewski's publisher HarperCollins had 300,000 copies of the book in print prior to its being chosen for the book club, according to published reports. After Oprah made her announcement, nearly 1 million copies were rushed to print to meet the demand.

Louisa Ermelino, the book review editor at Publisher's Weekly, praised Oprah's selection of short stories.

"Stories are wonderful and there are very few venues left for them," Ermelino said. "Lots of magazines used to publish them but now nobody really does it anymore."

Many short-story authors are often pressured by publishers to write novels that will be easier to sell, she said.

But, even so, Ermelino said that she's hopeful Oprah's pick will drive customers into bookstores.

"I think that across the industry, everyone thinks Oprah's book club is a good thing," she said. "She sells a lot of books."

"Oprah's name is huge," Ermelino said. "When she picks someone, everyone wants to read [that book]."

And, while Akpan's first collection may soon be flying off bookstore shelves, his spot in her book club hall of fame does not guarantee his success in the future, Ermelino said.

"While the book she picks will sell millions, the next book the author writes is not a guaranteed hit because everyone is on to the next Oprah book," Ermelino said.

"But it's a great shot for publishing, an unbelievable shot for the author," she said. "It just doesn't guarantee a career."