Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

First Book Talk a Success!

Sen Center

Senior Center presentation Nov. 4 2014

My Book is Launched

I gave my first book talk today! I spoke at the Westport Senior Center to an audience of forty two people. The organizer at the Senior Center had set up chairs for 30, and my fabulous publicist Aline had put copies of my article from Brain, Child Magazine and my bookmarks on every chair. Holly, our contact at the Senior Center, had staff set up more chairs, Aline got more copies, and everyone found a seat.

My daughter had suggested using PowerPoint instead of just speaking. She was right! It was so much more interesting when people could look at the screen. I had 30 slides, most with pictures. I didn’t include a lot of text on the slides. I talked about Nigeria’s history, politics, and my Peace Corps assignments. At the end I talked about Boko Haram and Ebola.

Aline has already given me a suggestion of two other items I might include in the slides, or even take as ‘live examples,’ namely a necklace made with the beads and a Nigerian garment.

Kathy Roberts

Kathy Roberts and I talked about the book after the presentation

I knew nearly half of the people in the audience.

Everyone responded when I taught them how to say my name – the five syllables, then the tones! Audience members were completely engaged throughout the presentation, asked many questions, and stayed to talk after I finished.

I sold and signed the five books I had bought from Amazon. More are coming from CreateSpace tomorrow. Several people placed orders and I will deliver those tomorrow or Friday.

I read three excerpts. The first was about the meal at Federal Palace Hotel when the waiter asked, “Are you all right?” and when I responded affirmatively he took away my plate before I was finished! I hadn’t known “Are you all right?” in this context meant, “Are you finished eating?”

The third was about my visit to the Dibia; I’ve shared that with you before in several posts. Here’s the link to the middle section.

Here is the second piece I read. I was taking Clem’s parents to see Kingsway, the major department store in Lagos in 1964. I was trying hard to make a good impression, using every word of Igbo I had learned in the few months since Clem and I had become serious. I wanted them to get over their fear of his marrying a white woman.

As I dressed the next morning, I kept practicing. “Ebaa bu uno uka. Here is the church. Anyi ge je Kingsway. We’ll go to Kingsway.” At half past eight, I drove to Clem’s. He wished us well, said good-bye, and left for work.

I used every word of my limited vocabulary as I drove, pointing out the church we attended, the American Embassy, and Lagos Race Course. They, in turn, told me in English that they’d been to Lagos when Clem left for England twelve years earlier before there were so many tall buildings.

We parked across from Kingsway, the British department store at the center of the Lagos business district. Clem had thought they’d like to see this symbol of modernity. They liked the revolving door—a new experience. They seemed impressed by the orderly displays of Revlon lipsticks, Sony transistor radios, and kitchen utensils, all with prices clearly marked.

I led them to the escalator so we could visit the second floor. I said casually, “Bia. Come,” and took Mama’s hand. She stepped on by my side. “Eeh, o gini? What is happening?” she cried out loudly. She gripped me so hard I almost lost my balance. Customers and salespeople looked around to watch our ascent. I hoped there wasn’t anyone I knew.

I held her tight. When we reached the top, I pulled her with me onto the steady floor and kept an arm around her. I turned to see if Papa was all right. He stepped off with a show of confidence. Then he realized he’d stopped moving and nearly lost his balance.

A rapid exchange in Igbo followed with no effort to make me understand. I was sure they were saying I was crazy, and they would never trust me to take them anywhere again. But gradually they recovered, and I led them through the women’s dresses, skirts, and blouses, to men’s wear. I avoided the women’s lingerie.

When I suggested we go back down, Mama held back. Then, seeing no alternative, she gripped my hand and stepped on. She drew in her breath sharply and shut her eyes tight. But she didn’t scream on the way down. This was a relief. Papa made a good job of pretending nonchalance, but I could tell he was a little uneasy too.

Our last stop was the food section on the first floor. “Na watt-in be this?” Mama said, pointing to a can of Heinz vegetable soup with its picture of carrots, potatoes, and lima beans.

“Ofe Oyinbo. European soup.”

She stopped at the meat counter, where packets of steaks, pork chops, and hamburger were covered with plastic wrap. “This be for sick peoples?” she said, pointing to the ground meat.

“No, Europeans eat meat like this,” was the most I could explain. I realized that having a chunk of meat, sometimes just one, in a stew was valued. Why would anyone grind it up to be nearly unrecognizable?

Criminal Justice – A Topic for Today and for TEAM Westport


Harold Bailey, Chair of TEAM Westport

At our TEAM Westport meeting this week we talked about criminal justice and the harm our current system causes disproportionately to people of color. Susan and I both said we believe this to be a critical topic for today, but questioned whether this was an issue that TEAM Westport should address.

Harold gave a spirited and heartfelt reply. He said because people of color are unfairly targeted and also tainted with the brush of criminality, it is basic to combating racism in Westport and everywhere. He spoke with more passion than I have seen before and convinced us that it is the right topic for us. He said Alison Patton, the minister at Saugatuck Congregational Church, would like to work on this with us. I’m sending him the information I picked up at the Seven Sisters Alumnae Seminar recently.

Have you read The New Jim Crow? I mentioned the book in my post about the seminar. It’s an excellent explanation of how our criminal justice policies and practices have become harmful, with horrendous results. What are your thoughts?

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.


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  2. My copy arrived in yesterday’s mail. I have only one complaint- I’m not getting any work done today because I don’t want to put the book down!

  3. Congratulations on your first success! Sorry I missed it – sounds like it was engaging and informative. When’s the next talk?

  4. How talented and creative you are, Your wording about the escalator made me chuckle…I really am excited to read the book, of course I want a signed copy!!!

  5. Catherine! What engaging stories! What a gifted storyteller you are! Can’t wait to read more. xoxo

  6. Congratulations! Very exciting!

  7. Hi Catherine,

    Congratulations! I’m looking forward to reading it.

  8. Hi Cathy,
    I can hardly wait to read the rest of the book! It should be on my doorstep tomorrow!
    All my best to you,

  9. Catherine,
    Brava! Seemed to me to be a perfect debut. You were a great speaker, the slides were easy to follow and the content was fascinating. You are on your way!