Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favourite authors. She’s certainly my favourite African author and I believe she is the best female writer of our time. Her fiction is poetic and hugely powerful. She weaves enchanting and wonderfully moving stories about the reality of Nigerian life.
Adichie was named one of the twenty most important fiction writers today under 40 years old by The New Yorker. She featured in the April 2012 edition of Time Magazine, celebrated as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Hers is the voice of a generation.
Adichie’s stories spark recognition within me. Not only do I remember fondly places I’ve lived, people I’ve met and friends I that I miss daily, but I feel a deep sense of understanding. Of home. Of humanity. Things that transcend distances of all kinds. She gives us a longer look into the real stories of Nigeria. Following in the footsteps of Chinua Achebe, often dubbed the Father of the African Novel in English, Adichie is changing the perception of her Nigerian home in the outside world. She offers up stories – many, varying and widely different stories – that seem to reach into the heart of humanity and pull out only truth.
Her 2009 talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ is a wonderful analysis of the power of stories:
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
“When we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
Adichie understands the power of stories when it comes to changing stereotypes and erasing false perceptions.
Adichie’s 2012 TEDxEuston Talk, part of an annual conference focused on Africa, shot to fame when Beyonce sampled it in her performance at the 2014 MTV VMAs: “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you with threaten the man. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”
While I have read much of her work including the written version of the talk, entitled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, I had not listened to it until last week, and promptly showed it to 70 Chinese undergraduate students (their responses to come). Her voice and presence transform already brilliant writing into something transcendent. The room crackles with truth, recognition and understanding.
To those who read any of her novels (Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah), her ideas about gender are made crystal clear. The fact she admits she finds it hard to read classic feminist texts, acknowledges the stigma around the word ‘feminist’ and once labelled herself as a ‘Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men’ makes her an ideal role model for women worldwide, no matter what their background.
Adichie’s is a singular voice, but it speaks to many. Though we may not have personal experiences like her stories of Nigeria, most of us can identify with them and remember similar moments in our own lives. Her words cross the boundaries that divide us, her sentiments unite us.
There’s little that can be said in response to this – her words need no qualification. She’s just right.