Chimamanda Adichie is probably my favorite contemporary African author. It seems so cliche since she is such a hot topic these days, but my appreciation of her goes beyond her novels. I love that she has maintained the uncanny ability to tell compelling Nigerian stories, set in her own "backyard", with scenes that are all-so-familiar to this West African Millennial (me). I think it is extremely important for young Africans to ingest and appreciate more local literature, to read works set in their local contexts, with their colloquialism and perspectives. I know I would have enjoyed that exposure as a teenager. It is even better to see an African author achieve acclaim on such an international scale and garner the influence that she does.
However, that aside, I became even more inspired when she decided to speak more freely about her feeling of "otherness" and living a step out of the current reality. Sometimes, it is almost the bane of being an artist. I can relate to a certain extent; there are so many ideas floating around in one's head, that it is easy to disengage in order to maintain some type of sanity.
I've become even more enamored by Adichie's talks, short stories, interviews (you name it) over the years, and I typically hold the same convictions she does. I had the fortune to see and hear her speak at the Pen World Voices Festival in May, and what a lecture it was. Below are some snippets and their (some edited) transcripts. I couldn't record the whole speech because I was taking notes, but there were nuggets of wisdom in almost every sentence and anecdote. Listen and breathe it in.
"This addiction to comfort, this primacy of comfort as an idea...often leads to a kind of silencing in public discourse, a dangerous silencing. The fear of causing offense, the fear of ruffling the careful layers of comfort becomes a fetish. Things are left unsaid, questions unasked.
We, human beings, I think, generally censor ourselves all the time. We hold back because there are already pre-set narratives to which we are loyal. But only until I came to America did I become so finely attuned to how you should say things and how not to say things in public discourse. I learned that in public conversations about America's problems, especially problems to do with race, poverty, income inequality, the goal is not truth, the goal is comfort; comfort for all, ostensibly, but in reality, comfort for the more powerful. And the burden to be comfort-sensitive in public discourse, to be digestible and inclusive is most often placed on those who have been least included. Mainstream public conversations are usually flattened and multiple options do not exist. It has always troubled me, for example, how quickly people in media are fired for something they have said. Not because I like or support what the say...but because it is a silencing that leads to a larger silencing. The act of firing a person for what she has said without engaging with what was said always suggests that what was said had a certain power, if not truth.
Even the literary world is addicted to comfort. Why, for example, is it valued criticism in America to discredit a piece of literature for not having something called "redemption"?..."
"It is censorship to force a story to fit into something that already pre-exists, and above all, in my thinking about the surplus shades of censorship in America, the most egregious example is the US Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United that money is speech. If a country decides that money is speech, then true speech in that country is dead..."
"In my life as a citizen and as a writer, I am less comfortable with willingly silencing myself. To choose to write, in some ways, is to reject silence, but it is also a process of negotiating with silence. I don't think of censorship only as something imposed from without, but also as something within; self-censorships, those pushes and pulls which every writer confronts in her work. And so in general, I will not silence myself in my work because of the fear of consequences but I'm willing to acknowledge the possibility of those consequences.
When I wrote my second novel, "Half of a Yellow Sun", which is set during the Nigerian-Biafra war, I was prepared for backlash because I was writing about a contested history. And the consequences today are that in some circles my Nigerian patriotism is questioned. Because I speak unapologetically about the equality of men and women and because I am an advocate of the rights of gay people to live their lives on the continent of Africa, my true "Africanness" is questioned in some circles. These are consequences that I can live with. But what about my own complicity in acts of silence?"
Wish list: I would love to meet her one day for a casual lunch and just talk, especially about embracing our individuality apart from what society dictates, stepping out of our comfort zones, and using our words to promulgate a culture shift. That would be pretty amazing.