Bassey Ikpi on Succeeding and Coping with Mental Illness (OWL Award Spotlight)

Bassey Ikpi OWL Award Spotlight

Raw, honest, and refreshing.

When looking for a stand-out book to include in our 2019 Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards, what more could we have asked for? Saturated with Bassey Ikpi’s poetic voice and lyrical storytelling, I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is a lovingly disjointed collection of essays and an ode to the unique experiences living with mental illness.

Ikpi “left us all speechless in a good way,” making it easy to select her debut for our 2019 OWL Award in the Advanced Reading category, and the gravity of her story and message has yet to wear off. That’s why, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we sat down with the author to shed some light on the impact it’s made so far on readers far beyond BookPal’s borders.

“Bring it on…The more stories, the better.”

Since the release of I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying, Ikpi has seen a wealth of responses where “people have been able to see themselves” in her story. With the raw emotions flowing in and through 250+ pages, it’s easy to see why. While she finds it “heartbreaking” to know “that so many people can relate to that confusion and fog,” Ikpi appreciates the “special kinship” it’s developed between her and her readers.

Here’s just one example: “A woman emailed me a few weeks after the book came out because reading about my insomnia helped her understand why telling her son, ‘Just go to sleep!’ didn’t work. It felt like a victory to be able to offer that insight. Things like that remind me why it’s worth it.” One narrative at a time, she hopes this courage continues, spreading from one sufferer and survivor to the next so more and more people share their own stories and experiences.


Despite her talk of vulnerability, insecurity, and repression of painful emotions, Ikpi is surprisingly competitive. Having grown up an athlete and a dancer, she thrives on winning and felt disappointed when nomination after nomination passed her by. She admits, “It’s easy to say that awards don’t matter (and they don’t determine [your] worth), but they are a marker of how your peers…view your work.”

In the age of Instagram highlight reels and the dreaded FOMO, it’s no wonder the lack of attention felt like a loss. Luckily, her impeccable book of essays won the hearts of our team, earning it a prized position on the 2019 OWL Award Winners list—not to mention, a trophy (pictured). “I literally cried when it came in the mail,” she says of the award, exuding gratitude and humility at every step.

But the wake of winning her OWL Award hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies. Ikpi admits she even reached a point where she “regretted writing the book,” saying “I felt exposed and like I opened up my loved ones to scrutiny and judgment.” Comments especially directed toward her mother made her concerned she didn’t do “a good enough job protecting them” from the intensity of public perception.

“Empathy isn’t just about pity, it’s also about understanding.”

What’s striking is that Ikpi’s essays are not only comforting to those struggling with mental illness but also provides insight to the people who surround and support them.  She says, “Knowing that I’ve helped make a little sense of this thing that makes no sense has been humbling and more than I hoped for.” If nothing else, she hopes readers internalize the lesson “that empathy isn’t just about pity, it’s also about understanding what people are going through and giving some space and grace.”

When asked if she has plans for more books in the future, she said, “I have a couple of ideas floating around but since it took me about 100 years to write this book, I think I’m going to just enjoy it for another 100. Or at least a little while longer.” We think she has every right to a century of celebration. Ikpi exposed her soul as she peeled back layer after layer with courage and grace in I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying. We hope her story is a spark that will soon light the world and release the stigma from sharing honestly about mental health.

Order copies of I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying in bulk for your business, school, or organization today, and learn more about our 2019 OWL Awards on our blog.

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This post was written by Danielle Brown, Ecommerce Specialist at BookPal. She is currently reading Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

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