Imbolo Mbue: Everybody Has a Story

"The challenges of being black and working-class in America - my characters didn't understand that and I didn't either." Meet Imbolo Mbue, author of 'Behold the Dreamers' - a novel about dreams and struggles across race, class and gender.

Imbolo Mbue came to America before 9/11 and the economic recession, a time she describes as "much simpler." As an African immigrant, an Ivy League graduate and a young professional she has experienced the realities of both poverty and success in New York City. Losing her job during the financial crisis allowed Mbue to write 'Behold the Dreamers', a tale of dreams and loss in modern America seen from the point of view of an immigrant family and an Upper East Side executive. The experience of being let go, explains Mbue in this interview, awakened her curiosity to the myriad of different ways in which the crisis affected the inhabitants of New York. Fascinated by the difference between the social groups of the city, she compared her own working-class immigrant life with that of a privileged New Yorker and wondered: "what is it like? What are his struggles? And his socialite wife, what are her struggles?"

Mbue's debut is controversially empathetic with the so-called "Fat Cats," the bankers and Wall Street executives, often blamed for the financial crash and the inequality in America. The novel looks at the crisis from the side of the privileged: "Even the Wall St. exec - this man still has his own virtues, he has things about him you can admire ... Just like the African immigrant family." In the end, says Mbue "behind the money, the race, the class, they're just human beings. Many of us are going after the same thing in different ways."

On the subject of the US' hardening stance towards immigration, especially the harsh tone towards immigrants during the 2016 presidential election in which conservative candidate Donald Trump made promises to build a wall between the US and Mexico, Mbue pleads: "There should be more empathy in the conversation ... If we can start looking at each other and say: 'who are they? What is their story, how did they get here?' Literature can help us broaden our view on the lives and choices of people we don't understand, reducing our prejudice and making singular stories out of the generalisations."

Imbolo Mbue (b. 1982) is a Cameroonian-American author based in New York City. She holds a B.S. from Rutgers University and an M.A. from Columbia University. Her debut novel 'Behold the Dreamers' was released to great reviews in 2016.

Imbolo Mbue was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in New York, USA in October 2016.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

Supported by Nordea-fonden