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Common Read 2019-20

What It Means When A Man<br>Falls from the Sky

What It Means When A Man

Falls from the Sky

 Author: Lesley Nneka Arimah 

We are very happy to announce that this year’s Common Read for the FIT community, and particularly for incoming students, is Lesley Nneka Arimah's What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky.

This powerful and incisive collection of short stories examines the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home. Nneka Arimah explores generational rifts and women’s dispossession — including the fraught relationships between mothers and daughters and the complicated dynamics of female friendship. Further, the Common Read fulfills a key FIT Strategic Plan objective: to provide an empowering student experience in a cohesive community. Author Lesley Nneka Arimah, winner of the 2017 Kirkus Prize and NYPL's Young Lions Fiction Award, will give a talk on the research that led to her book. Join us on campus during New Student Orientation in the fall, before a crowd of 2,200 incoming FIT students.

Many thanks to members of the FIT community who submitted over 50 Common Read book suggestions last fall. The Common Read Committee went through every suggestion and narrowed the list to this final selection. We thank the Common Read Committee for their dedicated contributions in selecting this year's Common Read title. 

More About the Author

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. Her stories have been honored with a National Magazine Award, a Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and an O. Henry Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, and GRANTA, and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation and MacDowell. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky won the 2017 Kirkus Prize, the 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and was selected for The New York Times/PBS book club among other honors. Arimah is a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in writing. She lives in Las Vegas and is working on a novel about you. (taken from larimah.com)



The FIT Common Read Program is designed to foster a sense of community by encouraging a shared intellectual experience across the college. Since 2014, a committee of faculty, staff, and administration has selected a book as recommended reading for incoming students to the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

Common Read Selection Criteria

A book that:

  • students will enjoy reading and find relevant;
  • will challenge students intellectually;
  • faculty members can incorporate into their course reading lists;
  • can be discussed across the disciplines;
  • has not already appeared on most high school reading lists;
  • does not exceed 300-350 pages;
  • is available in various formats and is accessible to all; and 
  • ideally, has a living author.

2019-20 Common Read Selection Committee

Dr. Shadia Sachedina, Assistant Vice President for Student Success and Dean of Students (Co-chair)
Dr. Patrick Knisley, Dean for the School of Liberal Arts (Co-chair)
Dr. Sarah Blazer, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of The Writing & Speaking Studio
Dr. Katelyn Prager, Assistant Professor, English and Communication Studies
Julia Jacquette, Assistant Professor and Chairperson, Fine Arts
Ruth Jeyaveeran, Assistant Professor, Textile/Surface Design
Dr. Tardis Johnson, Associate Dean for Student Academic Support, Academic Advisement
Ladeem 'Monet' Michael, student
Carli Spina, Associate Professor and Librarian, Gladys Marcus Library
Catlin Michael Wojtkowski, Counselor, Department of Student Life
Nedean Wilson, Counselor Associate, Academic Advisement Center

Lesley Nneka Arimah at FIT


 Author's website (stories and interviews): larimah.com

 Book Browse information on the Biafra-Britain Connection:
"What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky

 August 2018 — PBS News Hour interview with Lesley Nneka Arimah:
Author Lesley Nneka Arimah Answers Your Questions" with Jeffrey Brown 

 August 2017 — Levar Burton Reads (podcast) interview with Lesley Nneka Arimah:
A Conversation with Lesley Nneka Arimah

 July 2017 — Levar Burton Reads (podcast) title story reading:
What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky

 April 2017 — The Atlantic book review:
The Powerful Pessimism of What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky” by Amy Weiss-Meyer

 April 2017 — NPR book review:
What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky Is Defiantly, Electrically Original" by Michael Schaub

 September 2015 — Catapult title story by Lesley Nneka Arimah:
What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky



Discussion Questions

This list of discussion questions provided by The New York Times may be utilized to prompt in-class discussion as well as informal or formal written work. 

1. The first story in the collection, “The Future Looks Good,” begins and ends with the same statement, that Ezinma does not see what’s coming behind her. How does this statement both propel the action in the story and reveal the characters’ history?
2. In “War Stories,” does the girl’s father’s war stories parallel her own violence at school? If so, how? What is it he wants her to learn?
3. In “Wild,” Ada and her cousin Chinyere initially greet one another with skepticism but ultimately find a common bond. What is it that brings them together?
4. The story “Light” begins and ends with a father describing the spark in girls that he sees the “wolves of the world” extinguish. What is it he’s talking about? Who takes that spark away?

In “Wild,” “Light,” and other stories in this collection the relationships between the mothers and daughters are fraught. What is it the mothers want from their daughters? What role does propriety and rebellion play?

6. Has the girl’s mother really returned from the dead in “Second Chances”? What is the significance of the photograph?
7. In what genre would you put these stories: magical realism, sci-fi, fairytale, folktale, something else?
8. Why do you think Nneka Arimah chose to write “Windfalls,” about a mother who feigns injuries to get money, in the second person?
9. “Who Will Greet You At Home” tells the story of a woman who weaves a baby out of yarn. Do you see echoes of other fairy tales you’ve read? Or other fantastical stories?
10. How does class play a role in the story “Buchi’s Girls”? How does it divide families?
11. In the title story, “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky,” society has supposedly figured out “the equation of a person.” But at the end, the main character Nneoma, a so-called “grief worker,” finds the math too vast to calculate. What is Nneka Arimah trying to tell us in this story?
12. In “Glory,” we believe the title character has all the bad luck until we meet Thomas’ mom, and Thomas gives her the ring. What decision do you think she makes in the end? What does this moment say about womanhood and marriage?

“What Is a Volcano” reads like a straight folk tale and “Redemption” like gritty realism. Do you enjoy how this collection shifts from one genre to the next?


The book’s last paragraph seems to be a kind of thesis statement for Nneka Arimah, who writes that “girls with fire in their bellies will be forced to drink from a well of correction till the flames die out.” But then the main character in the story refuses to be corrected. Why?


What themes resonated most for you in these stories? Nneka Arimah’s explorations of family and home? Race and class? Or womanhood and mother-daughter relationships?

16.  From the legacy of the Biafran War to the contemporary party scene in Lagos, we get many glimpses into Nigeria in this collection. What did you learn about the country’s past, present and even imagined future?