Serenna Werling | Staff Writer
Ramon Varela | Photographer
On October 25, Leslie Nneka Arimah, author of “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky,” visited Century to speak and read stories from her acclaimed book. The afternoon event kicked off at 1:30, with Arimah reading her short stories “The Future Looks Good” and “Light.” In the evening, after dinner with President Millender, she returned to Century for a second event, where she read “Glory,” another short story from her book.
Arimah creates stories that span mere pages but cover worlds. She writes of misfits and rule breakers, offering a realistic, if grim, viewpoint on society’s outcasts. She says that her stories often contradict the common tale of the rebel who overcomes the status quo and rises to fame and acceptance.
“There is a veneration of the misfit, and that’s not what really happens. In the real world, the misfits remain misfits…That’s a place I was myself, so I wanted to write a realistic exploration of being someone who isn’t quite doing right. There usually isn’t a moment of triumph or overcoming—it’s just the way things are,” she explained in an interview after the event.
The stories in “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” make skillful use of character and place to explore belonging, loss, and the fate of society’s outcasts and rebels. Some of the stories, such as the titular story and “Who Will Greet You at Home,” incorporate fantastical elements, allowing the reader to explore alternate universes that seem every bit as vivid and three-dimensional as our own.
“I really like the idea of just being able to dip into these multiple worlds. I get people saying, Oh, this could be a novel, and it’s like, yes it could, but I don’t want it to be. That’s what I love about short stories. You can be fully immersed in this world for twenty-five pages and then move on and fully immerse yourself in another world. It’s really satisfying to be able to create all these different worlds one after the other,” Arimah said in the interview.
She also revealed her methodology for creating those worlds. “What I tried to do was write the story as though this was a world that already existed. Your characters don’t know that they’re not real—as far as they’re concerned, this is the real world. When you enter the story with that frame of mind, where you treat your character and the story as something that already exists in this world, it changes the language you use, the things that your character notices, and creates the impression of a world that’s already there.”
It works perfectly. The stories expand as you read them, leaping off the page and metamorphosing into immersive universes.
Arimah says she started out as a massive reader, and did not discover writing as a career until college. “It wasn’t until I took a class in college that I was able to conceptualize the idea that somebody wrote all these books that I loved and was introduced to the idea of that being something I could do. Once I realize that writing was a thing that you could study and do, it was inevitable that it was a path I would follow because I loved books so much. Why not become somebody who creates those books?”
She was worried how her father would react to this decision, because he’d originally hoped she would go into a practical, lucrative field. “He was very practical, and it was just understood that we would all go into practical careers, so I was worried about telling him I wanted to become an artist,” she recalled. “He told me that he himself had always wanted to be a writer, and he had decided to go into engineering because he wanted to support a family, and because of that, he’d always had some regrets. He didn’t want me to have those same regrets.”
Arimah also had some advice for young writers. “You have to read a lot. By reading a lot and reading widely, reading literary work, reading fantasy, reading science fiction, reading Westerns, reading romance, you learn all these different ways to tell a story.”