Nigerian novelist and writer, b. 1977
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells stories. Stories about war, stories about post-colonial life, stories about life in a new country, and more.
Her books include two novels, Purple Hibiscus (2003), which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and Half of a Yellow Sun (2007), which won the Orange Prize in 2007, and has been made into a film that will be released later this year. She has also published many short stories, several of which are in her collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009). In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a.k.a., “genius grant.”
The thing you notice about her prose is how hands-off it is. She puts you deep into an individual point of view, whether her own or that of a fictional character, describing perception and reactions without judgment. Things just are.
That suspension of judgment is in part a recognition that events and situations can always be seen from multiple perspectives. Many stories can be told about a single event. She discusses this in her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
Without many stories, it is easy to fall back on stereotypes, mistaking them for reality, the whole truth. It becomes inconceivable that those people in that other place could be anything like you.
But having many stories requires both that people are willing to tell their own stories, and that people are able to find these stories. Adichie’s prominence in the modern literary world is because she has seized the opportunity to tell her stories, and their truth cuts through the vague generalizations of the news to present complex human experience.
She uses that influence to help others to tell their own stories. She is a trustee of the Farafina Trust, a non-profit organization “established to promote reading, writing, and a culture of social introspection and engagement through the literary arts.”
The organization’s goals and activities include writing workshops, donating books to public schools in Nigeria, helping editors in Nigeria develop their skills through an exchange program, creating an online community for African writers to discuss their art and industry, and the publication of a magazine.