Wole Soyinka and Carmen Dell'Orefice - Liberatum Berlin
Wole Soyinka and Carmen Dell’Orefice

Meeting someone like Wole Soyinka or any literary celebrity for that matter can be a truly amazing experience.

You’ve read their novels, stalked them online, read every essay they’ve written, drawn inspiration from their views on life, literature, and politics. One day your dream of meeting this person comes true.

The easiest way to blow that one chance you have to share something meaningful with this person who figures so prominently in your intellectual life is to say:

“OMG. It’s (insert favorite literary celebrity name here) I love your work so much!”

Here is why. Lauren Beukes is the South African writer of Zoo City fame. Her most recent novel, The Shinning Girls, came out last year and was a summer hit. The novel is being adapted for TV by MRC and Leonardo diCaprio‘s media company, Appian Way. So, yeah, she’s a bonafide literary celebrity.

In an interview with Slipnet Magazine, Beukes begins with a rant on common mistakes people make when they meet literary celebrities.

That I find literary celebrity very uncomfortable, and I would really like it if you had something to say other than “OMG I love your work so much!” or “I hate your work so much” as the case may be. Let’s talk about other people’s books because I really don’t want to talk about my own, ever again!… I met David Simon [creator of The Wire – Ed] and the first thing I said to him was “I’m such a big fan!”, but where do you go from there? It’s a conversational dead end. I do get people engaging me – they want to talk about the book and I don’t want to talk about the book because it makes me feel self-conscious….I’ve written the book, I’ve done a thousand interviews on the book, I’m done with the book. I’d like to tell you about other books I’ve just read, or ones you’ve read, or find out what you do. I’m much more interested in you because I talk about myself all the time and I’m really bored with myself.

Read Full Interview

Here is my two cents on how to do it right:

The key to a memorable encounter with a literary celebrity is to keep your cool and show that you can engage with the celebrity as a person not as an impersonal icon. So no screaming, please!

A simple “how are you” and a warm smile is enough to get things rolling. Don’t forget to introduce yourself: my name is…I go to school at…Thanks for your visit, I enjoyed your talk.

What do you talk about in the three or so minutes you get with this person? I’ve had varying degrees of success in my own experience. I find that instead of talking about the author’s work—trust me they’re sick of it—talk about things that any  normal person would be interested in. Fashion compliments are always a nice touch—“those pumps are to die for.” Authors are no different from us. If they’ve made an effort to look nice, they’d appreciate it if someone noticed.  You can also ask them how they are liking their visit to your city or your school. If it’s rained all day, ask about how they are holding up with the shitty weather. You could even ask: “Read anything lovely of late that you’d like to share?” Whatever you talk about, stay on the lighter and funner side of things.

Golden tip: Keep things short and sweet. Don’t hold the author up. It’s tacky when the author has to be pulled away—more like rescued–from you.

Should you ask for an autograph or a picture? It’s totally up to you to decide. When Adichie came to Duke University, she took selfies with some of the undergrads and it was the most adorable thing in the world. But then she did it because she wanted to. So if you ask an author for a photograph and the person says no, it’s okay. It’s nothing personal. Just say a courteous thank you and move on.

The important thing is that you have a memorable experience that you will treasure and share with friends and family.


 See more photos of Soyinka and Wole Soyinka and Carmen Dell’Orefice in a Berlin even sponsored by Grey Goose Vodka. HERE.