Posted Thursday 30 September 2021
The author of Kingston University's latest Big Read title, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, has reflected on his first days at university and how nervous and excited he felt during the final in a series of book club events.
Award-winning author Okechukwu Nzelu, who studied English language and literature at Cambridge, was one of six panellists who took part in the animated discussion, which also included University staff and alumni. The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney (his first novel) won the Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for both the Desmond Elliot Prize, and the Polari First Book Prize.
The Big Read is the University's award-winning shared-reading scheme, which aims to make new students feel welcome before they arrive and create links between staff, students, and the wider community. A limited edition free book is posted to incoming students and copies are available to staff and current students to pick up around campus.
The book clubs have run throughout the summer, ahead of the new students arriving in September, and have featured experts from the University's staff, alumni and wider community discussing various topics featured in Nzelu's book – from fashion to gender, sex to faith, and finally how it feels to start university.
Nzelu expressed his mixed emotions at leaving home. "I felt both excited and nervous when I first started at university," he said. "I had a big imagination, which was good for my writing, but also it meant that I worried a lot. This is definitely reflected in the title character, Nnenna Maloney, who goes through a lot of the same emotions as I did."
The panel also featured Kingston University's Associate Professor of Dance Jason Piper. Jason explained what advice would give his younger self before embarking on higher education. "University is defined by your imperfections," he said. "So don't be afraid to make some mistakes and learn from them. Just have faith in yourself."
The book club discussed the idea of redefining yourself when going to university and what it was like for them to meet students from across the world, given Kingston's very international population.
Panellists also included Kingston University MA publishing graduate Cathy Liney, who now works as an editorial assistant at Scholasitic, the educational publishing company. The event was hosted by professor of publishing, Alison Baverstock who founded the Big Read. Professor Baverstock said she was proud of the project's continued success. "It's great to see the Big Read return for another year, especially with a fantastic novel like The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney," she said. "I'm really looking forward to hearing our new students' views on the novel and hope that by discussing it with their peers, they'll find out more about each other."
The Big Read was founded in 2015, and has featured esteemed authors such as Nick Hornby, author of About a Boy, and BBC broadcaster Emily Maitlis. The online book club began last year, as a way of keeping everyone connected during lockdown.
Kingston was the first UK university to establish a scheme on such a wide scale, and to involve the full university.
The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, was published in 2019 and is a tribute to community, faith and forgiveness as well as growing up and growing into ourselves. Okechukwu said he was honoured that his novel was chosen as this year's Big Read book and looks forward to making an in-person visit to campus later this year.