Aspen Winter Words continues with author Imbolo Mbue |

Aspen Winter Words continues with author Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue will be in Aspen to discuss her sophomore novel "How Beautiful We Were" on Tuesday, March 7.
Photo Credit Kiriko Sano

When author Imbolo Mbue was a girl growing up in the West African country of Cameroon, she was taken by the people she saw who revolted against injustice to fight seemingly impossible battles.

“I’ve always been fascinated by people that will rise up to fight against powerful forces — revolutionaries, dissidents, and activists,” she said. “So this book, among many things, is a celebration of those people. It is an homage to people who have this audacity to do something that they believe can change their lives and change the world around them.”

Her writing career began as a hobby. That changed when she lost her corporate job during the financial crash in 2009.

“I had no intention of becoming the writer that I am today,” she said. “I was always a reader, and I decided to start writing just to see what it was like. I had a corporate job, which I lost during the financial crisis, and after I lost my job, I decided to take my writing more seriously and to put my work out there. And it so happened that after many rejections, I finally got an agent and a publisher.”

Mbue’s first novel and New York Times bestseller “Behold the Dreamers” won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. The novel has been adapted into an opera and a stage play, as well as optioned for a miniseries.

“How Beautiful We Were,” by Imbolo Mbue explores a generation of children affected by environmental injustice.

Her sophomore novel, “How Beautiful We Were,” was named by The New York Times as “One of the 10 Best Books” of 2021 and is set in a fictional African country and village in which the local people are dealing with environmental degradation caused by a multinational oil company.   

“These people on the surface appear to be very powerless,” she said. “This is a small community. They don’t really have much as far as resources; their water is poisoned, the land is poisoned, and they aren’t getting any help from the government. And this company says, ‘Oh well, you know, we’re going to fix things,’ but there’s no reason for them to fix it.”

The novel is told through the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula, who grows up to become a revolutionary and her decades-long fight for environmental justice.

Mbue said that though she chose to write about environmental injustice, she looked at many forms of injustice across the globe, and that the novel could have just as easily been about racial, economic, and social injustice. 

She also studied the movements that arose to combat those injustices.

“I looked at the Black Lives Matter in America, looked at the women’s rights movement,” she said. “I looked at many different dissidents and activists around the world. They were the ones who inspired this character. So even though it is about the environment, it’s also ultimately about the human spirit and the price people must pay when they decide to take on such a formidable opponent as a multinational corporation or a government.”

Mbue will make her first trip to Aspen (and Colorado) as part of Aspen Winter Words to speak about her novel at Paepcke auditorium on Tuesday, March 7, at 6 p.m.

If you go…

What: Aspen Winter Words presents Imbolo Mbue, author of “How Beautiful We Were”
Where: Paepcke Auditorium
When: Tuesday, March 7, 6 p.m.
More info and tickets:

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