“If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realise that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices”
These are the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an internationally acclaimed Nigerian-born novelist and writer.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born 15 September, 1977 in the Igbo state of Enugu, Nigeria, to James Nwoye Adichie—a professor of statistics, and Grace Ifeoma Adichie—a university registrar. Adichie initially studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria (Nsukka), for almost two years. During this period she did some editorial work for The Compass—a magazine published by the catholic medical students organisation of the university. Adichie later relocated to the United States at the age of 19, where she would then study Communications and Political science at the University of Drexel in Philadelphia. She later transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University, where she obtained a Bachelors degree with the distinction of summa cum laude in 2001. In 2003, she obtained a Master’s degree in creative writing from John Hopkins University. She would later go on to receive a second Master’s degree in African studies from Yale University. Adichie is married to Ivara Esege and spends her time between the United States and Nigeria.
Adichie has authored many publications and short stories but the most prominent of these include; Purple hibiscus (2003), Half of a yellow sun (2006) and Americanah (2013). For her first novel, purple hibiscus, she achieved worldwide recognition and won in 2005, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. For her second book, Half of a yellow sun, she won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield award. The novel was also turned into a theatre production, with the same name, starring BAFTA winners—Chiwetel Ejiofor (from 12 years a slave) and Thandie Newton (from Good deeds and Crash). The production was released in 2014. Her third novel Americanah was chosen by the New York Times as one of the top 10 books of 2013. She has also written numerous poems, plays and short stories and is often called upon to give speeches at various internationally acclaimed universities
In 2013, Adichie gave a public lecture at the TED x talk in which she extolled her views on being an African feminist. She is quoted as saying “because I am a female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Marriage can be… a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?” Excerpts from Adichie’s speech where later featured in Beyonce’s 2013 song, “flawless”.
Why she inspires me
“Adichie is the most prominent of a procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors that is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature” —James Copnall.
James Copnall’s view on Adichie’s work is quite accurate and very succinctly articulated, in terms of her drawing a new breed of readers to African literature. I remember a time in high school, when the only African book on the English literature reading list was “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. I read it all through high school because it kept featuring on the literature reading list, as I believe it was probably the only African book of exceptional standard. Luckily, this is set to change with African authors like Adichie on the literature scene and her renowned creative writing style and vivid imagery which she manages to bring to life through her books. I believe that not only will Adichie’s writings make it on to the curriculums of high schools and universities around the world, but her work will also draw new readers unaccustomed to African literature. I believe there will come a time when her novels will be translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Mandarin to attract in its entirety “a new generation of readers”. I believe she is in a league of her own and is possibly the Chinua Achebe of our time.
Adichie is not only a novelist and writer, she is also feminist, an unapologetic one at that. She is quoted as saying “the problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be, rather than recognising how we are”. Her statements seem to question society’s perception of what is right versus what is wrong, with a view to shifting mindsets and normative prescriptions on gender roles. Because at the end of the day, who decides what should be a gender norm? Often the same people that limit women to specific roles.
Adichie is also a humanitarian and an activist in her own right who advocates for social, economic and political equality. In one of her quotes, she says “What I find problematic is the suggestion that when, say, Madonna adopts an African child, she is saving Africa. It’s not that simple. You have to do more than go there and adopt a child or show us pictures of children with flies in their eyes. That simplifies Africa.” The point she drives at is that it takes a lot more than adopting African children to help Africa as whole. Without sounding too political, I think it’s important that the right political, social and economic structures are put in place to help Africa rise out of its predicament. It goes back to the famous saying of rather than give a man a fish, teach him how to fish…
As I end my review on February’s woman of the month, I will leave you with one of her famous quotes which reads “I am a person who believes in asking questions, in not conforming for the sake of conforming. I am deeply dissatisfied – about so many things, about injustice, about the way the world works – and in some ways, my dissatisfaction drives my storytelling”— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
PHOTO CREDIT: Farafina books
Remember to comment or share your thoughts on the topic by clicking the comment link.