Editor's note: Eileen Pollack is director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan and taught Uwem Akpan, author of "Say You Are One of Them." Akpan's book is the choice of the Oprah Book Club, which will be discussed November 9 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.com Live or Oprah.com.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/OPINION/11/04/pollack.uwem.akpan.oprah.bookclub/story.pollack.courtesy.jpg caption="Uwem Akpan and Eileen Pollack at a holiday dinner." width=300 height=169]
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Even among the hundreds of applications, this one stood out. Most applicants to creative writing programs submit stories about the angst of their suburban childhoods. This writer's stories concerned the daily ordeals of a boy living with his family on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, and the horrific plight of a Rwandan girl whose mother is Tutsi and father Hutu.
Not only did the applicant have what writers call "material," he was blessed with an uncanny ear for human speech and the poetry to describe his characters' very unpoetic lives.
I can still remember the young Kenyan boy watching his mother decant the glue she intends to sniff. The glue, the boy tells us, "glowed warm and yellow in the dull light," and when his mother had poured enough, "she cut the flow of the glue by tilting the tin up. The last stream of gum entering the bottle weakened and braided itself before tapering in midair like an icicle."
Still, this applicant gave us pause. The writer had so much to say, he seemed to be trying to channel a raging waterfall through the tiny funnels of two short stories. His use of punctuation was idiosyncratic, to say the least. And the applicant was a priest!
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