Posted Monday 24 May 2021
Acclaimed writer Okechukwu Nzelu hopes to bring a little happiness to Kingston University students as this year's chosen Big Read author, with his debut novel The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney.
Now in its seventh year, the Big Read is an award-winning shared reading initiative which creates a sense of community for Kingston University students, staff and alumni and provides a common talking point for new starters.
Throughout his career, Nzelu has worked as a teacher, helping students on their way to higher education, and as a lecturer, inspiring undergraduates as they begin university life. The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney – winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Polari First Book Prize – follows Nnenna as she navigates life, tries to understand her Igbo heritage and heads off to university.
The Big Read initiative aims to connect students before they arrive at university and Nzelu hopes Nnenna's journey is one students can relate to as they start this exciting next chapter. "As a teacher and lecturer, I know how crucial those first few experiences at university can be, and I remember from my own experience how intimidating it can seem. In fact, the novel begins with Nnenna herself fast approaching this transition to university life, so this seems like a really lucky fit," Nzelu said. "The Big Read is a fantastic way to bring people together in a positive way, and I'm so honoured to be a part of it."
Nzelu hopes his book will be a comfort to students as they start their journey at Kingston. "I really hope you all enjoy spending time in Nnenna's world, and I hope the book brings you a little joy as you start this exciting journey," he added.
Named Widening Participation Initiative of the Year by Times Higher Education in 2017, the Big Read launches each year with a book chosen by a panel from a shortlist of six. This year the shortlist was made up entirely of authors who are Black, Asian or minority ethnic, to reflect the diverse community of Kingston University.
A special edition of The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney – published by Dialogue Books, an imprint of Hachette UK – will be posted to all new students before they even arrive at University, while staff and current students can pick up their own free copies on campus.
Events, including an author talk and book signing, are held throughout the year to invite the University and local community to engage with the text and each other.
Associate professor of English literature at Kingston University and member of the Big Read selection panel, Dr Karen Lipsedge, nominated The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney for this year's shortlist. Dr Lipsedge said she looked forward to discussing the title with new students. "The novel's themes are ones we can all relate to; identity and a need to feel like you belong and are valued as who you are," she said. "These themes also speak to our values as a University and are ones that our new students will be thinking about as they prepare to join the community. I look forward to discussing it with students and colleagues."
First year BA Publishing with English student, Jade Marshall, 24, received a Big Read book when she started at Kingston. "The Big Read offered such an appreciated welcome gift when I started last year," she said. Also a member of the Big Read panel, Jade hopes new students will enjoy seeing moments of their own journey to university reflected in The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, as she did.
Professor Alison Baverstock, director of the Big Read, said Nzelu joins a really strong line-up of authors who have taken part in the scheme. "We're delighted that Nzelu is going to be involved in this year's Big Read and know our University community will be inspired by his debut."
Kingston University is working with Edge Hill University, Lancashire and St George's, University of London, to bring the Kingston University Big Read to their students. Edge Hill University and St George's are also committed to widening participation in higher education.
Previous Kingston University Big Read choices were Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News by Emily Maitlis, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, The Humans by Matt Haig and About a Boy by Nick Hornby.