Room Project, a Detroit-based space for women and nonbinary writers and artists, is presenting a virtual Q&A with Imbolo Mbue on April 19. In March, The New York Times bestselling author published How Beautiful We Were — which tells the story of the people of a small, African village who stand up against the American oil company that has degraded their community — and Room Project is inviting you to read the novel with them ahead of the event.
The local organization is hosting two Zoom book clubs that focus on Mbue’s new release. The first will meet on April 5 and 12 and be led by Katelyn Rivas, the founder of the Detroit chapter of The Free Woman’s Black Library. Those who sign up for Rivas’ group will work on writing prompts. The other book club, which will meet on April 8 and 15, will be led by Liz Kennedy, who works with the Lead to Life collective and with Allied Media Conference as a program coordinator. Kennedy’s group will touch on how How Beautiful We Were connects to local environmental issues.
According to Room Project Founder Christin Lee, the clubs and the corresponding author event — a format the organization has recently offered for Britt Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror — are intended to spark deeper conversations about books. “…The energy that comes out of those conversations is pretty singular, and I think we’ll all kinda been blown away by how good they are,” Lee says. “People are so smart and funny and tender and thoughtful with each other when they slow down to just talk about a really good work of art…”
Mbue — whose debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, won the Pen/Faulkner Award for fiction and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection — has already received praise for How Beautiful We Were from the likes of The New York Times Book Review, Time, USA Today, and The Seattle Times. Reviewers have lauded Mbue’s work for its relevant and heart-wrenching story that explores how corporate greed, colonialism, and capitalism can devastate a community and the tenacious spirit of the people who fight back.
“Imbolo’s book is really special because it takes us out of the USA,” Lee says. “I think we all can relate to the feeling of going over the national news again and again to scan the COVID numbers, rage against the myriad injustices, fear the larger machinations of climate and industry that can feel so far out of our control. In all of that, I noticed that I had stopped paying attention to a lot of international issues that I have long been passionate about. Honestly, I feel a lot of guilt and pain about being so absorbed in what has happened here that I turned a blind eye to problems abroad that need to be talked about, supported, rallied around. Mbue’s book is powerful in so many ways as it charts a path of resistance, while it recognizes the humanity in all of us.”
The How Beautiful We Were book clubs are free and open to all gender expressions; you do not need to be a Room Project member to sign up. To attend the Q&A event later this month with Mbue, non-members must participate in a book club, which they can join by registering on Room Project’s website. Participants are welcome to attend both days each club is offered, or they can hop in for a single meeting.
Those who sign up for the club are encouraged to purchase How Beautiful We Were at a local bookshop. Pages Bookshop in Detroit is offering a 15 percent discount to those who participate in a club, and Room Project provides recommendations of other nearby shops on its site.
For more information, visit roomproject.org/bookclub.