Uwem Akpan was born in the village of Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria.
After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. "My Parents Bedroom,: a story from his short story collection, Say You're One of Them, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing 2007. Say You're One of Them also won the Commonwealth Writers™ Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) 2009 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.
In 2007, Akpan taught at a Jesuit college in Harare, Zimbabwe, and in 2008, he began ministering at Christ the King Church, Ilasamaja-Lagos, Nigeria.