How Beautiful We Were: Imbolo Mbue with Lauret Savoy

Tue. Mar 30, 2021 8:00pm - 9:00pm EDT
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Event Description

The bestselling novelist returns with a heart-wrenching tale of the conflict between corporate greed and community power.

Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, Imbolo Mbue's new novel tells of people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of cleanup and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country's government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interests. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle will last for decades and come at a steep price.

Imbolo Mbue discusses her latest novel's exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community's determination to hold on to its ancestral land and a young woman's willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people's freedom. 

Produced in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

LIVE from NYPL is made possible by the support of Library patrons and friends, as well as by the continuing generosity of Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos, and the Margaret and Herman Sokol Public Education Endowment Fund.

Imbolo Mbue 
is the author of The New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was an Oprah's Book Club selection. The novel has been translated into eleven languages, adapted into an opera and a stage play, and optioned for a miniseries. A native of Limbe, Cameroon, and a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, Imbolo Mbue lives in New York City.

 Lauret Savoy's research and writing consider how the nation's unfolding history has marked the land and people. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape won the 2016 American Book Award; it was a finalist for PEN American and more honors. Other books include The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World and Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology, named one of the "Five Best" science books in The Wall Street Journal. A woman of African American, Euro-American, and Indigenous ancestry, Lauret is the David B. Truman Professor of Environmental Studies & Geology at Mount Holyoke College and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Her forthcoming book reckons with the origin places of "race" and racism in this land. 

If you have a NYPL library card—or live in New York state and want to apply for one now—you can borrow How Beautiful We Were for free with our e-reader app SimplyE. The title is available in accessible formats for community members who do not use standard print. Find out more at: You can also request this book, and more, for pickup at one of our Grab & Go locations.  

Readers everywhere who wish to purchase copies of How Beautiful We Were can do so at The Schomburg Shop. Proceeds benefit the New York Public Library. 

A live transcript will be provided.

ASL interpretation is available upon request. Please submit your request at least two weeks in advance by emailing A pre-filled Gmail template is available by clicking here.

Any media will be accompanied by alt text to reference before the program or by audio description.

This program will be streamed on Zoom and simulcast to YouTube. You must register with your email address in order to receive the link to participate. Please check your email shortly before the discussion to receive the link. Captions for this event will be provided. 

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Imbolo Mbue © Kiriko Sano

Lauret Savoy © John Martins

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