10 Reasons to Love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

16th Sep 2013

Sunday was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 35th birthday. In celebration, here’s ten things we love about the critically acclamined author of Half of the Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus…

1. Her accolades

Her international literary career is just a little over a decade old but she’s already won 14 different awards, including an O. Henry Prize (The American Embassy) and an Orange nee Bailey’s Prize (Half of the Yellow Sun), and received nominations for an additional 17 awards.

2. She wants us all to be feminists

There are far too many truths in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston speech to list here. Do yourself a favour; go make yourself a cup of coffee or tea and devote 30 minutes of uninterrupted time listening to her address gender inequities for both girls and boys in “We Should All Be Feminists”.

3. She grew up in fellow Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s house

Her family home in Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria was once owned by fellow award winning writer Chinua Achebe. When Achebe vacated his position at Nsukka University for one at University of Massachussettes in Amherst, MA, the Adichie family moved into his former house when Chimamanda’s father took a position at the Nigerian university.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cites Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as an important book of her youth that helped shape the way she viewed writers and writing.

4. Her inspiration comes from close to home

Half the Yellow Sun is about the Nigerian-Biafan War, a nearly three year civil war in which the Igbo people (the ethnic group that Adichie’s own family belongs to) fought to secede from Nigeria proper.

The title of the novel comes from the flag the Biafan people adopted—it pictures a half sun on a black-red-green striped background. Nearly one million citizens died as either casualties of war or starvation from the subsequent famine. Chimamanda’s own grandfather perished in a refugee camp during the war.

That whole Cinderella thing is such crap! Those stories mess you up.5. Her TED Talk is amazing

She’s witty, funny, earnest, and honest. But more importantly, she’s spot on in regards to how the storyteller shapes a narrative and why telling or re-telling cultural stories (historical or fictional) from an outsider’s perspective is damaging to how cultures are perceived and received.

Her power and prowess as a verbal storyteller is very apparent as she weaves stories of her own life with historical and sociological findings. Personal favorite: The story of how her college roommate asked to listen to a tape of Adichie’s “tribal music” and was sorely disappointed when presented with Mariah Carey.

6. Criticism is for the birds

Adichie never reads reviews of her books; she finds them too distracting.

7. Hair is political

With her newest novel, Americanah, Adichie adds to a long line of novelists, critics, and musical theater writers (Hair, anyone?) who employ hair as motif to discuss cultural and generational differences.

Much like Adichie—who wears her hair braided and piled elegantly atop her head—Ifemelu refuses to alter the natural state of her hair by straightening it. In fact, one Ifemelu’s more painful experiences with at-home relaxing agents is a fictionalised version of Adichie’s own experience with the caustic fluid.

Convinced that she could not let a potential employer see her hair in its natural state, the night before an interview Adichie used an at-home kit to straighten her hair. The result was not the intended straight, flowing locks but rather a head full of painful, seeping wounds.

8. She’s a genius

In 2008, the McArthur Foundation awarded Adichie one of its “Genius” Grants. Recipients of this Fellowship receive an obligation free prize of $500,000 to use as they see fit.

9. She thinks the Cinderella myth is crap

In an interview with The Telegraph, she emphatically stated;

That whole Cinderella thing is such crap! Those stories mess you up. The most offensive thing is that you’re expected to show gratitude. I have a problem with the mainstream idea of a marriage proposal.

The woman isn’t sure—she’s hoping—and then one day he whips out the ring and she goes ‘oh!’ I mean what the f**k is that? The idea that you’re waiting for him to decide. Or—worse yet—that you have to find a way into manipulating him into marriage. Jesus. It makes me so angry.

10. She was “supposed” to be a doctor

Her family urged her to follow her sister’s example and become a doctor—and she almost did. However, the pull of storytelling was stronger. She gave up pursing degree in medicine during her second year of university in Nigeria for one in creative writing, ultimately receiving an MFA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins.

Thankfully, she’s never looked back!

What about you? What’s your favourite thing about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?

Image via The Sydney Morning Herald