Not a shy African woman

An hour with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Chaired by Paula Morris this session provided another full-house and an insightful look at the issues of interest to this relatively new and exciting author. The thing around your neck, Chimamanda’s first collection of short stories, explores cultural clash and the migrant experience, building on the success of her earlier prize-winning novels Half of a yellow sun and Purple hibiscus

Paula Morris opened her questions by asking Chimamanda whether she was conscious of an African and Nigerian identity while growing up in a middle-class home in Nsukka. Chimamanda answered that she had no real sense of being anything other than Ebu, a Nigerian tribe, and that it was only when she left Nigeria to attend John Hopkins University in the US that she was viewed as African and suddenly expected by her teachers and fellow student to be an authority on all things African. She added that while to some extent she had to accept the label of Nigerian and African writer, she felt uncomfortable representing a whole continent. She also talked of having the authenticity of her first novel Purple hibiscus questioned by a white, male American university professor because her African characters drove cars and weren’t starving!

Spending half her time in the US, Chimamanda believes allows her to look at Nigeria from the outside, making her clearer eyed. This sentiment was also echoed in a later session by Tash Aw who also finds his voluntary exile in London affords him more clarity in analysing his home country of Malaysia. But Nigeria was she said “where her heart is” and while her country often infuriates her she belongs there and “loves it very deeply”.

Chimamanda was outed as an Enid Blyton fan, she joked she was reading the Famous Five back in her hotel room, and that her teenage years were spent in the quest for lashings of ginger beer. The fact she had never actually managed to taste ginger beer was remedied by one of the ARWF crew who brought her a Bundaberg, how topping! When questions were opened to the floor one gentleman complimented her on her modest demeanour while waiting to come on stage and called her a traditional “shy African woman”, a compliment Chimamanda was not having a bar of. Talented, beautiful, intelligent and not shy, an hour with Chimamanda was a real delight.

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