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Let’s start a new chapter together: Join the Big Read community!

The SGUL Big Read logo.

What is the Big Read?

The Big Read aims to create a sense of belonging among students and staff alike through shared reading - one book that gathers together St George's community to share ideas about thought-provoking topics or experiences of getting lost in spellbinding narratives.

In particular, the Big Read aims to help incoming students feel welcome and settle into the university environment.  

All new students to St George's will receive the same book - the Big Read book chosen for each academic year, when they enrol. A limited number of copies will also be made available for returning students and staff on a first come, first served basis.

A programme of events around the themes of the book will help you to meet new people, get to know your teachers and peers beyond the classroom and make the most of your university experience.

About the Big Read 2021-22 

Upcoming events:

Student-led session exploring the relationship between religion and LGBTQ+ communities (more here)

Careers workshop to explore your values for a fulfilling future (more here)


This is the third year of St George's Big Read. This year’s book is The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, the debut novel of Okechukwu Nzelu, a writer and teacher. This is a novel about the coming of age of a young woman, daughter of a British mother and a Nigerian father, discovering her identity and exploring her Nigerian heritage; the book is written with a compelling balance of humour, sensitivity, and depth.

Okechukwu Nzelu author photo, credit Martin Glackin Photograph credit: Martin Glackin









A message from Okechukwu Nzelu

Hear author Okechukwu Nzelu's message to Big Read participants and learn more about the book.

How to get get involved

Get your copy

As a new student at St George’s, you will receive your free copy of The  Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney when you enrol. 

Staff and returning students can also receive a free copy to join in the reading and participate in events, so all can discover St George’s community anew. If you are a member of St George’s staff or a returning student, you can get your copy from the Library helpdesk – there is a limited number, so be quick in getting yours!

Join in with events and on social media

A programme of events starting in September will draw on the book’s themes such as transitioning to universityfamily relationships(ethnic) identityfashionmental health, and many other questions relevant to people joining university. These events will include an event with the authorthemed discussionscreative workshops, and social media campaigns, will offer you diverse and rich opportunities for you to join, share your experience, listen and learn from others, and contribute to making St George’s community.

All are invited to join The Big Read Microsoft Teams site to connect with fellow students and staff, learn about events, and share your experiences!

To be the first to find out about upcoming Big Read events register to join the Big Read mailing list.

You can also get involved on social media by taking a selfie with your copy of the book and tagging us, using #SGULBigRead.

About The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu

BR 21-22 book cover medium

The book is centred on Nnenna Maloney's transition to adulthood and on her forays into discovering who she is. The narrative flows between tender accounts of Nnenna's relationships with her mother, with her father whom she's never met, her disovery of her Igbo-Nigerian culture, with her boyfriend and school mates. In all these, Nnenna finds herself needing to ask big questions - what is means to be oneself, how to relate to one's unknown heritage, how to love parents, friends and romantic partners, how to think of the future. 

Nnenna's own story is interwoven with stories of those surrounding her, her mother, her mother's friends, her school, and her local community in Manchester, all searching for big questions of their own - how to accept one's child's independence, how to understand and accept one's sexuality, how to navigate human relationships when following one's religious faith.

About Okechukwu Nzelu

Okechukwu Nzelu is a Manchester-based writer. In 2015 he was the recipient of a Northern Writers' Award from New Writing North. In 2020 his debut novel, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney   (Dialogue Books/Little,Brown), won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize, and the Polari First Book Prize. In 2021, it was selected for the Kingston University Big Read. He is a regular contributor to Kinfolk magazine. His second novel, Here Again Now, will be published by Dialogue Books/Little,Brown in March 2022. He is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

Big Read 2021-22 programme of events

Creative writing workshop    

When and where? Monday 18 October 2021, 5:30-7pm, MS Teams (online) 

Speaker: Prof. Alison Baverstock, Professor of Publishing at Kingston University, and the author of 18 books.

A follow up to last year’s successful workshop, we are pleased to offer a practical and informative workshop about the value of creative writing. However busy you are, making time to reflect and write can bring satisfaction, pleasure and enhance your personal effectiveness. This workshop will offer guidance on why it’s worth making the effort, and how you can get started. 

Alison will cover both the benefits and the practical stages involved, and the workshop will be peppered with opportunities for practical involvement – with plenty of opportunities for questions.   

Big Read 2021-22 launch event: Reading and becoming a better healthcare professional

When and where? Tuesday 26 October 2021, 4-5pm, Michael Heron Lecture Theatre

Speakers: Mujgana Hussainy, Samia Tajhiba, Earnest Selvadurai, Dr Carina Spaulding (The Reading Agency), Dr Marcus Jackson (Associate Dean Student Experience)

About this event

Mujgana Hussainy, second year medical student, and one of the two students who  interviewed Emily Mailtlis, last year’s Big Read author, together with Earnest Selvadurai and Samia Tajbiha, both representatives of the St George’s Literature Society and second year Biomedical Science students, will present research findings about the benefits of reading for health and will interview St George’s staff about their reading and writing/journaling practices and their wellbeing effects.

More about our speakers

Mujgana Hussainy

Mujgana is a first-year medical student who loves to go on long walks, watch historical TV shows and documentaries, and read books, from YA to autobiographies to poetry. She took part in the Big Read Initiative last year when she interviewed BBC journalist and presenter of Newsnight, Emily Maitlis, about her book Airhead, the 20-21 Big Read book. Mujgana’s written piece on the experience can be found in George’s student newsletter. She is back again this year to interview staff members on the benefits of reading for healthcare practitioners.

Earnest Selvadurai

Hi! My name is Earnest Selvadurai and I got involved with the Big Read in my capacity as a representative and Treasurer of the SGUL Literature Society. As well as relishing a good novel, I’m a keen reader of politics and history, alongside science. As a Year 2 Biomedical Science student with past research projects in blood substitutes, bacterially-derived biofuel and ecology, reading scientific materials continues to be a long-standing passion. I feel a deep sense of fulfilment in giving back to our communities and have extensive experience in working with charities such as our own Teddy Bear Hospital Charity, Red Cross Society and the Scouts. I hope Big Read participants will also discover how literature and writing may compliment academic and clinical life!

Big Read Book club

When and where? Thursday 11 November 2021 from 1pm to 2pm in Room H0.1

Host: Anne Binsfeld, Liaison Support Librarian.

About this event

Join us for a firm favourite, a book club! We will be having an informal discussion about Nnenna, her peers and their complex, rich world on November 11 from 1pm to 2pm, in-person. We might even have biscuits or you can bring your lunch. Okechukwu Nzelu covers a range of topics in his debut novel, including race, religion, going to uni and (LGBTQ+) sexuality, which means there will be plenty for us to chat about and (dis)agree on. Some questions your host will be raising are:

  • What did you think of the opening chapter?
  • What do you make of Nnenna’s development?
  • Which character can you identify with most?
  • Did your relationship with your mum / dad / caretakers change in the way Nnenna and her mum’s does when you went to uni?

Anne is a Liaison Support Librarian, supporting IMBE courses with teaching, training and learning resources. She is also responsible for the library social media accounts like Instagram and the library blog. She is in charge of the library’s growing reading for pleasure collection which includes novels, short stories, popular non-fiction and poetry. If you’d like anything added to that, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing She is a member of the LGBTQ network and a Mental Health First Aider.

Them vs Us: Religion, faith, health and university life

Reflections on Nnenna Maloney’s story and the impact of religious identity

When and where? Thursday 25 November 2021, from 1pm to 2pm on Big Read MS Teams (online)

Register for your place here .


  • Angela Kubacki CPsychol, SFHEASenior Lecturer and Head of Clinical Communication
  • James Sullivan-McHale, 3rd Year MBBS5 student, Student Lead of Student-Staff Partnership Grant project
  • Hussein Abu-Rabia, 3rd Year MBBS5 student
  • Aditya Dhiran, 3rd Year MBBS5 student
  • Nathan McNamara, 3rd Year MBBS5 student.

Honoured guest: Dr Yingfei Heliot, PhD, MBA, FHEA, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, University of Surrey Business School.

About this event

Following on from a series of workshops in July 2021 aimed at improving cultural competency, the Them vs Us team will tackle the delicate issues of religion and faith in ‘The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney’ by Okechukwu Nzelu. In this hour session, discussion will focus on the faith-based elements in the book, namely the orthodox Christian views and the attitude of outsiders to the Christian viewpoint. The team will present key findings and discuss their challenges in conducting a project on faith.  Finally, our invited guest speaker, Dr Yingfei Heliot, will highlight key findings from her report on “Religious Identity and Working in the NHS”, a study commissioned by NHS Employers in 2019.  

'Them vs Us' is a research project conducted by St George's students and funded by a Staff-Student Partnership Grant. Following the session, a short handout will be provided (available for download) with further information about Nnenna Maloney and the research project. 

Big Read Author event: A meeting with Okechukwu Nzelu 

When and where? Wednesday 8 December 2021, 2-3pm, online (live interview streamed online)

Register for your place here

Things I wish I’d known – St George’s techers’ and students’ experiences of moving to university

When and where? 13 January, 5-6:30pm, online (MS Teams)  
An event to bring students and staff together and learn from each other. Teachers and students from across Programmes (Medicine, Paramedic Science, Postgraduate etc) will talk about their experiences of moving to university, overcoming personal and professional challenges, and discovering themselves in the process.  

This Big Read session invites the whole of St George's community to reflect on their university experiences, share stories and lessons learnt, discuss how things have changed in medical education but also what has endured. 
The session will be hosted by Marcus Jackson, Associate Dean for Student Experience, and guests will include Chris Baker (Paramedic Science), Judith Ibison (MBBS), Mark Bodman-Smith (PG), and Vasantha Muthuppalaniappan (MBBS) and their invited students, including Issy Schiavi (PhD student), Sarah Jones (Paramedic Science, Year 3), and Jan Mukiibi (MBBS4, Final year).

Religion and the LGBT+ community – a discussion around faith and being LGBT+

When and where? 24 February, 1-2pm, Alistair Hunter Room, 2nd Floor

Register here
Join us for a short talk and series of group discussions exploring what the historical relationship between religion and the LGBT+ community has been, as well as exploring personal relationships between faith and identity. We see this same debate explored in the book - Leviticus 18:22 – the famous line about man not lying with man – is the line that Jonathan suggests his bible group in Cambridge put on a postcard to hand out, we later find out that years after Jonathan is now living in Manchester as an openly gay man. We invite everyone regardless of religion, identity or opinion to join us in exploring these complicated topics in an open and constructive forum.  

Careers workshop: Know yourself and explore your values to have a fulfilling future

When and where? 10 March, 1-2:30pm, online (MS Teams)

Register here

Workshop leads: Emma-Marie Fry (Careers Consultant), Julia Hutchinson (Head of Counselling), Valerie Gage (Counsellor)

Understanding our values helps us to make the right choices for a fulfilling future. Our values are the things that we believe are important in the way we live and work but many of us are unaware what our own values are and can sleepwalk into making regrettable choices for ourselves, be that in our reactions to challenging situations or in making major life choices like career direction. In this session the SGUL Careers Service and Counselling will cover;

An Introduction to values - why are they fundamental to understanding ourselves and making the right choices. What methods and tools help identify your values for career choice Values and your well-beingKeeping our values in mind - techniques to overcome everyday mental challenges that we all face in our work, study and home lives.

More about the speakers

Emma-Marie Fry,  qualified Careers Consultant, has 25 years experience of careers guidance and careers education, with people of all ages and stages of career development. Emma has worked as a senior manager for an international, private careers consultancy, set up her own career guidance company for schools, before moving on to the University of London Careers Service where she has worked as a Careers Consultant at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and St George's. Emma supports students to launch and continue along fulfilling, successful career paths. She is a member of  the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS)  and sits on the national AGCAS Health and Related Professions Task Group. 
Valerie Gage is our first Black Counsellor here at St. George's. Her time here has enabled her to gain a deeper sense of the importance of representation for Black and Brown peoples. She is interested in transgenerational beliefs, cultural attitudes and values and how these factors influence and impact our sense of self and life choices
Julia Hutchinson is Head of Counselling and really interested in what motivates people to become health professionals, and what sustains them along the course of their training and career.

Sign up to the Big Read mailing list here to be the first to hear about activities, events, and opportunities.

The Big Read 2020

Last year's Big Read book was Airhead by Emily Maitlis, find out about this and how we celebrated the book by browsing the sections below.

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About the book
The cover for Emily Maitlis's book Airhead.

From Prince Andrew to David Attenborough, Donald Trump and Emma Thompson, Maitlis has met some of the most influential people in politics and entertainment. Her book, Airhead, dives into the challenges of producing nuanced, contextualised coverage in an ever-accelerating news cycle. Her accounts range from profound experiences reporting on tragedies, to more surreal and humorous interactions with familiar faces.

About Emily Maitlis

Emily Maitlis was born in Ontario, Canada and grew up in Sheffield., the youngest of three sisters. She graduated from Cambridge and began her journalism career on a radio news programme in Hong Kong.

She joined the BBC in 2001 and last year became the lead anchor of Newsnight's first-ever all-female team. Her reporting has resonated with viewers, with more than 265,000 followers on Twitter. In 2017 she was named Broadcast Journalist of the Year at the London Press Club Awards.

At the RTS Television Journalism Awards she won Network Presenter of the Year in both 2019 and 2020. 

Live interview with Emily Maitlis
  • Monday, 25 January 2021, 3:30-4:30pm, MS Teams
The 2020-21 Big Read author, Emily Maitlis, Broadcast Journalist of the Year at the London Press Club Awards (2017), joined us for an interview about her book Airhead, her experience meeting some of the world’s most influential people, travelling to all corners the world, and seeking to capture and share meaningful stories. Emily kindly agreed to be interviewed live online to an audience of St George’s University students and staff and two of St George's students, Mujgana Hussainy (MBBS) and Jada-Virginia Surpin (BMS), interviewed Emily Maitlis. Read Mujgana's piece about her experience interviewing Emily Maitlis.
Themed discussions

Suffering, conflict, and peace: can mindful approaches offer practical solutions? What expectations do we have around what being 'mindful' means?

  • Wednesday, 10 March 2021, 4:00-5:30pm, MS Teams

Speaker and meditation lead: Amy Spatz

Join us for a Big Read workshop facilitated by clinical communication and mindfulness scholar Amy Spatz.  In this session we will consider the chapter ‘An Airport Hotel with the Dalai Lama.’  We’ll discuss the expectations we hold of this man and the ancient practices he teaches.  We’ll consider both light-hearted and deeper subtleties of a Buddhist approach.  There will be an opportunity to meditate briefly together and share perspectives. 

Encountering grief in teaching and practice

  • Wednesday, 3 February 2021, 4:30-6:00pm, MS Teams

Speaker: Dr Marcus Jackson

The presenter is Associate Professor Marcus Jackson, Professional Lead for  Radiography and an Associate Dean of Student Experience at St George’s University of London.  Dr Jackson will discuss the ways in which we confront and cope with the hardest moments of our lives. His presentation looks at bereavement through the lens of the Sheryl Sandberg chapter and his own experiences as a health care professional; this will be followed by Q & A.

Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and author of Option B, a bestseller offering Sandberg’s personal perspective on bereavement. You can see Emily Maitlis’ interview of Sandberg, which is discussed in the chapter here.

Reflections on environmental challenges: experts, consumers, and climate change

  • Thursday, 17 December 2020, 4:30-6:00pm, MS Teams

Speakers:  Prof  Peter Whincup (Co-Chair of the SGUL Environmental Working Group), Marta Delfino and Mahima Turakhia  (St George’s SU Ethics and Environment Officers)

Peter Whincup, Marta Delfino, and Mahima Turakhia explored issues about climate change, starting from the chapter in 'Airhead' in which Emily Maitlis interviews David Attenborough, the biologist and broadcaster responsible for a remarkable series of television programmes about the natural world, most recently including `David Attenborough: a life on our planet'.

Creative writing workshop

Creative writing workshop - Five ways in which you can start and keep a writing practice going, and five reasons why you should bother

  • Tuesday, 6 October, 4.30pm, MS Teams

Speaker: Prof Alison Baverstock, Kingston University, the author of ‘Is there a book in you?’ and ‘Marketing your book, an author’s guide’ – both published by Bloomsbury – and jointly established Kingston’s MA Publishing at Kingston (now the top such course in London).

This practical and informative workshop explored how and why it’s worth building a writing practice – even though your life is already packed. Prof Alison Baverstock covered both the benefits and the practical stages involved, and the workshop was peppered with opportunities for practical involvement and plenty of opportunities for questions.

Book club sessions
  • Thursday, 19 November 2020, 1.00-2:00pm, MS Teams. We discussed chapters 1 to 12 of Airhead
  • Wednesday, 10 February 2021, 12.00-1.00pm, MS Teams. We discussed chapters 13 to 24 of Airhead.
Welcome to St George's Big Read 2020 event
  • 30 September, 12:00-1:00, MS Teams
  • Hosts: Dr Marcus Jackson, Associate Dead for Student Experience, Anne Binsfeld, Liaison Support Librarian, Dr Alina Apostu, Student Experience Officer


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