Author Interview: Imbolo Mbue

From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers comes How Beautiful We Were, a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an American oil company. We spoke with author Imbolo Mbue about the inspiration for How Beautiful We Were, returning to her debut’s narrator, and more!

“A novel with the richness and power of a great contemporary fable, and a heroine for our time.”

Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend, winner of the National Book Award

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by people who stand up to fight against injustice, and so one day in 2002, I began a story that was driven by this fascination. It took me many years of writing to finally put it together as a novel about what happened when a small African village decided to fight against a powerful oil company that had been polluting their land.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

Prentice Onayemi, who narrated the audiobook version of my debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, will be narrating a good portion of this novel as well. I’ve met so many listeners of that audiobook who couldn’t stop raving about his narration, so I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of his narration here. He’s incredibly talented.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? What struck you about the narration?

I’ve listened to the first couple of sentences, and I went, Wow!

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

Oh yeah, I am a huge audiobook listener! Especially for memoirs narrated by the author. Some of my favorites include David Chang’s Eat a Peach and Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Right now, I’m about to start listening to Vanessa Springora’s Consent.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

They’ve meant so much to me. I still remember all the days, in the midst of writing my forthcoming novel, when I would pause to take a walk to my local independent bookstore and feel so rejuvenated by being in there. And of course, I’ll leave with new and exciting books, some of which that I had just discovered!

Anything else to share with us?

I love audiobooks! Long live independent bookstores!

Header photo by Kiriko Sano

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