Zambian author discusses recent short stories, future novel

Rachel Freeman

Author Namwali Serpell joined UT faculty, students and community members for an afternoon reading and discussion of her recent and upcoming works.

Serpell, a Zambian fiction author and University of California-Berkley professor, read aloud sections of three selected works, “Bottoms Up,” “The Sack” and “Book of Faces” at an event sponsored by the Ethnic and Third World Literatures program in the Department of English and the Michener Center for Writers. Guests asked questions about different elements and themes in Serpell’s work and how she crafts her writing.      

Serpell said she chose the works based on her cultural identity.     

“I am a literal African American, like Barack Obama,” Serpell said. “I am both Zambian and have lived in the states for a long time. So I’m going to read an American story, [‘Bottoms Up,’] a Zambian story, [‘The Sack’] and a story that is set in the Internet, [‘Book of Faces.’]”    

Before the readings began, Serpell was introduced by Abbey Chung, a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers, who organized the event along with English graduate student Fatma Kola. Chung said the process of getting Serpell to come to campus was remarkably easy. 
“I started talking to Fatma over the summer about bringing Namwali here,” Chung said. “I hope this becomes a model to show creative writing students here so we can make the kind of literary events we want to see on campus.”

As Serpell read aloud her work, members of the audience asked questions about various elements of the piece. During the Q&A, Serpell said she is turning the short story “The Sack” into a longer novel with the same characters that cumulate in the last chapters as a reprint.
After the reading of the “The Sack,” one member of the audience, Jim Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers, said he wonders how the story would be a part of the larger book Serpell is writing.

“I think the story is so beautiful,” Magnuson said. “It’s so mysterious. One of the great things about it is everything you leave out — it feels very clean. But wanting to deal with Zambian history, I think, well, gosh, it’s not going to be thick with fact and how to deal with that.”

In response to his question, Serpell said her book will have a variety of genres mixed in it.