Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Book Title Needed Urgently

| 18 Comments

Frank Sesno on Asking Questions Well

Author and speaker Frank Sesno

Author and speaker Frank Sesno

On Thursday evening last week I was at the Westport Library for “The Community Table: Frank Sesno and the Power of Questions.”

The library’s listing of the event said, “Questions help us break down barriers, discover secrets, solve puzzles, and imagine new ways of doing things. Emmy Award-winning journalist and media expert Frank Sesno kicks off our new community conversation series, “The Community Table,” with a talk about his new book Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change.”
The Westport Library is planning a bi-monthly community conversation series to foster civil conversations “around issues of culture, diversity and public policy.” The format is to have an expert explore a topic. Then there will be small group facilitated conversations. Thursday’s event was the first.
Sesno's book, Ask More. It has a long subtitle!

Sesno’s book, Ask More. It has a long subtitle!

I was a facilitator for one small group of eight. My direction for the group was, “In this conversation, think about why civil conversation is important, and what are some of big picture goals for nurturing it in our community.”

I asked for someone to take notes. Then I waited, and waited. Finally one woman volunteered. Our conversation became more about how to have civil conversation, than why. Comments included,
  • Don’t worry about asking the right question, just be present and listen.
  • Show respectful acceptance; be open but willing to disagree without confronting
  • Use questions like, “I’m curious what you think about . . . “
  • Avoid putting people on the defensive
  • Give people time to think; don’t press for speedy response.

I tried hard to engage everyone and almost succeeded.

Frank Sesno gave an engaging presentation. He told stories about why he wrote the book and how. I bought it and started reading. It’s entertaining, as he was.

Title for My Second Book?

I have nearly finished editing my second book. I had two major tasks from beta readers’ comments. First was to make the chapters hang together so there is a direction, even though it is not a single story. Second, be explicit about what I want people to take from reading it.

I have tried to do these. Now I need to decide on a title. I need your advice.

In the introduction, I explain my goal.

“Nigeria gave me a sense of belonging that I had not felt growing up. When I speak about my memoir and about Nigeria, my audience always comments on my visible love for the country and its people. And they ask, “Is there anything you miss?”

“I don’t hesitate. I tell people that I miss the powerful sense of community that I came to know so well in Nigeria. I feel it most strongly when I think of my husband’s village of Nanka. When I respond to an audience member’s question and speak of the sense of belonging, of being part of an all-embracing community, people nod their heads. “We do not have that here in the same way,” they say. “That sense of community sounds wonderful.”

“Nigerians identify as a member of a tribe. My husband is Igbo. My husband’s tribe is the third largest in Nigeria. It is composed of somewhere between twenty and thirty million people. The Igbo people are the majority tribe in the southeastern part of Nigeria.

“Everyone in his village is Igbo. Our children are Igbo. I cannot ever become Igbo, though I am accepted fully in his family, clan, and village. Even though people in Western culture today may have a strong identity with their place of birth and extended family, it is different from the experience of being rooted to a place and a group of people in the way it happens in an Igbo village.

“What creates that sense of belonging in an Igbo village? How do people from Nanka know in their bones that they belong, they are part of the community, and will always be welcome and have a home?”

Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad, is at the Westport Library. Kola proverb is at beginning.

Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad, is at the Westport Library. Kola proverb is at beginning.

In my concept statement about the book, I say, “The author invites her reader to experience of the sense of belonging and being in community. Since she cannot take her reader to Nanka, she shares stories. She describes husband’s family, beginning with his parents. Using what she has learned about them and about the times, she imagines their early lives. She relates the story of their marriage, and the early life of her husband, their first son, while exploring the factors that made them know they are part of a community. Other aspects of village life that bind people together and make them know they belong to each other are explored through stories of other family members or through descriptions of experiences and customs.”

Kola nuts are mentioned frequently. Breaking kola is an important element in every Igbo ceremony. A favorite proverb often quoted when a visitor is given a kola nut to take home says: “When the kola reaches home, it will tell where it came from.” I used it at the beginning of my memoir.

What will reflect my goal and even more important, cause people to want to buy the book? Here are title contenders:

  • When the Kola Nut Reaches Home: an Inside View of African Customs
  • Breaking Kola: Nigeria’s Customs and Community
  • Destination Nigeria: an Inside View . . .
  • Inside Nigeria: The Customs and Culture That Teach Community
  • My Nigeria – any of the following with any of the subtitles
  • Nigerian at Heart
  • Speaking of Nigeria
  • Nigerian Journey
  • Nigerian Identity
  • Window to Nigeria

Which do you like? Do you have another suggestion?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

18 Comments

  1. Destination Nigeria: My Journey to Community
    Breaking Kola: My Nigerian Journey
    Kola: the Heart of Nigerian Community

    I offer #1 and 2 as a signal to the prospective reader that you are going to deliver that sense of direction you mention.

    I would encourage you to shy away from nouns-without-verbs in the title if you can. In the absence of a verb, have an emotional hook (suggestion #3). This is a moving series of tales, rich storytelling that is more than an anthropological study with a cool reserve and distance. The various titles with Custom and Culture are informative but not necessarily enticing. You want to pique curiosity, engage the prospective reader even before they touch it.

    My final comment is this: what is your elevator speech about this book? Can you synopsize it in 2-3 sentences, the time you have to answer the stranger on the elevator who says “What is your book about?” That may lead you to zero in on exactly what is most important to have in the title.

    Good luck with this!

    • And reviewing this, I acknowledge that only Breaking is a verb, but Journey and Destination imply movement and transit. I’m coming off a long series of travels myself, as you know, so I fear I’m still tired out, and my comments are not as coherent as I’d like them to be.

      It does, however, suggest one more possible variant… Kola: the Journey to Nigerian Community.

      • Liz, you are amazing with your comments. I am so glad we reconnected. Of course you’ve made the decision process more difficult with the suggestions, but easier as I refine my elevator speech.

        • I too am overjoyed to have made the connection between us come alive! I feel sure that whatever title you choose for it, the book will be embraced and loved because of what is inside, not what is on the cover.

  2. Destination Nigeria: An Inside View;
    Nigerian at Heart;
    and Window to Nigeria.
    There are a few titles that seem inviting to the reader. These certainly draw my interest. In fact, your writing already makes me want to add Nigeria to my travel list.

  3. Finding My Way to Community in Nigeria: Of Kola & Other Tales

    A Kola Nut Offering: Finding Community in Nigeria

    Kola Nut, An Offering: How I Found Community in Nigeria

  4. My wonderful former teacher of master classes for writers, now a valued critiquing partner, taught me that you want the title and first para. not only to attract those who are interested in this type of subject matter, but also to put off people who won’t like it. You want readers who will like it so you get good reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations.

    Part of how I like to do that is to be specific enough to make it clear what the book is about, but leave enough questions in the prospective purchaser’s mind so that they want to read more.

    With these goals in mind, I prefer either, “Destination Nigeria: an Inside View . . .” or “Inside Nigeria: The Customs and Culture That Teach Community.”

    • Thank you, Margaret. I really am grateful for the thought you clearly put into your response. I will take it into account as I decide in the next few days. I’m leaning to something with community. Nigeria? I’m not sure.

  5. I agree with Lowell, so I’d go for something like: Breaking Kola: becoming Nigerian at Heart. Or something similar.

  6. Title: when the kola nut reaches home: community and customs in Nigeria

  7. Hi Catherine, My leaning is for “Breaking Kola: Nigeria’s Customs and Community.” But I also think either in that title or sub-title there should be something of you in it, that this is your story, your experience. “Breaking Kola: My Experience of Nigeria’s Customs and Community” is probably too long but it conveys the sense I think is important.

    Lowell

  8. This sounds like a lovely and timely book. I look forward to reading it.

    I like the 3rd title’s emphasis on teaching community.

    • Thank you, Judy. I appreciate your comment. I think you meant the 4th one in the list; that has the word community which the others do not. When I was lying awake at an early hour this morning, I kept thinking that I must have community in the title somewhere!

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