Spotlight on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently acquired one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the U.S., the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) award. Over the past decade she has become perhaps the most popularly and critically acclaimed living African author. Below are highlights from essays and interviews by her over the past year.

I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.
I want President Jonathan to ignore his opponents, to remember that it is the nature of politics, to refuse to respond with defensiveness or guardedness, and to remember that Nigerians are understandably cynical about their government.
I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office.
I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.
I do not care where the president of Nigeria comes from. Even those Nigerians who focus on ‘where the president is from’ will be won over if they are confronted with good leadership that makes all Nigerians feel included.

  • “Hiding from our past” (The New Yorker, May 2014), in which she contextualises the censorship of the film based on her novel, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, in Nigeria.

But the Biafran war is still wrapped in a formal silence. There are no major memorials, and it is hardly taught in schools. This week, Nigerian government censors delayed the release of the film adaptation of “Half of a Yellow Sun” because, according to them, it might incite violence in the country; at issue in particular is a scene based on a historically documented massacre at a northern Nigerian airport. It is now up to the State Security Service to make a decision. The distributors, keen to release the film before it is engulfed in piracy, are hoping that the final arbiters of Nigerian security will approve its release. I find this absurd—security operatives, uniformed and alert, gathered in a room watching a romantic film—but the censors’ action is more disappointing than surprising, because it is part of a larger Nigerian political culture that is steeped in denial, in looking away.

Partly the result of an unexamined past and partly of the trauma of years of military dictatorship, a sustained and often unnecessary sense of secrecy is the norm in Nigerian public life. We talk often of the “sensitivity” of issues as a justification for a lack of transparency. Conspiracy theories thrive. Soldiers are hostile to video cameras in public. Officials who were yesterday known as thieves are widely celebrated today. It is not unusual to hear Nigerians speak of “moving forward,” as though it might be possible merely to wish away the unpleasant past.

The censors’ action is a knee-jerk political response, yet there is a sense in which it is not entirely unreasonable. Nigeria is on edge, with upcoming elections that will be fiercely contested, religion and ethnicity increasingly politicized, and Boko Haram committing mass murders and abductions. In a political culture already averse to openness, this might seem a particularly appropriate time for censorship.

As a teenager, I searched her trunks for crochet tops from the 1970s. I took a pair of her old jeans to a seamstress who turned them into a miniskirt. I once wore my brother’s tie, knotted like a man’s, to a party. For my 17th birthday, I designed a halter maxidress, low in the back, the collar lined with plastic pearls. My tailor, a gentle man sitting in his market stall, looked baffled while I explained it to him. My mother did not always approve of these clothing choices, but what mattered to her was that I made an effort. Ours was a relatively privileged life, but to pay attention to appearance—and to look as though one did—was a trait that cut across class in Nigeria.

Americanah, cover art

In July 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about her latest novel, Americanah, romantic fiction, her life in Nigeria and America, the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop, the Caine Prize for African Literature, and pan-Africanism.

AB: I’m particularly curious if there were any female writers that were particularly important to you.

CA: I don’t know if I have a relationship with them [laughs]. I’m not part of a secret society of African writers that meets in some dark basement. But the women who matter to me— Buchi Emecheta matters to me. I read Flora Nwapa when I was quite young. There’s a magic that Chinua Achebe had—Arrow of God, in particular, for me—that I don’t think any other novel did when I was growing up. Flora Nwapa didn’t have that, but there was something about her that was very familiar, the sorts of stories that I heard in my hometown. So that I identified with, but at the same time, I feel as though I carry Arrow of God with me, but I don’t carry Flora Nwapa’s work. But anyway, she was important to me—she is important to me—and Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood is a beautiful novel. I think it really captures that sense of working-class Lagos under colonial rule. Ama Ata Aidoo I adore. Absolutely adore her. I just think she’s marvelous in so many ways. I remember when I first read Our Sister Killjoy, and I just thought ‘this is very strange,’ because it was this thing that didn’t quite fit […]

African women—women from Africa, women expected to speak for and as Africa, women invited to events to be African—face the daunting burden of speaking, but not too well; understanding, but not too fluently; responding, but not too abrasively; knowing, but not too comprehensively. And always, always, upholding their dignity as African women. U.S.-based institutions invite African women to be African women: we want colorful head dressings so we can ooh and aah, appropriately chunky jewelry that socially conscious students can emulate, and down-home wisdom rendered in proverbs and riddles, references to ancient wisdom and secret knowledge.

Chimamanda Adichie visited the University of Maryland to participate in the Dean’s Lecture Series, and she said “fuck, fuck.”

It happened early during her session. And here’s the context. She described walking near her ancestral home, on the way to visit a favorite uncle. A woman who was walking ahead of her slipped and fell and said, “fuck, fuck.” And so Chimamanda repeated, “fuck, fuck,” several times as she told the story. In fact, the story became the words, “fuck, fuck.” […]

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