Face to Face with Chimamanda
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending an hour with acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie while she was in Melbourne. She was en route from the 2009 Sydney Writer’s Festival where she gave the opening address. I was absolutely thrilled to attend a free book-reading event she was hosting to promote her new short-story collection titled The Thing Around Your Neck. Chimamanda is my favourite contemporary African novelist; if you have not yet picked up Half of a Yellow Sun, you are missing out on a masterpiece of African literature!
Much to my surprise, the venue was packed though there were only about two Africans in the room which made me question whether the event received any publicity within the African community here or whether us diasporans were reading at all. She read from “The Shivering” which is featured in her new collection of stories about migrating from Nigeria to America (You can watch the reading from one of her Sydney events here). Question and answer time was interesting as it appeared that a few people in the room were writers themselves. Chimamanda was very down to earth; there were lots of laughs as she boasted about Nigeria being the best African country as a matter of fact and not Nigerian arrogance.
When I commented on her amazing ability to convey such colourful, rich descriptions of Nigerian food and daily life in Half of a Yellow Sun, and asked how she teaches her students to write creatively, her response was that she can only teach a student to be true to themselves and to “read like a writer” so as to perfect the technical aspects that are fundamental to good creative work. It was particularly nice to hear her speak about the writing and publishing process, like deciding on the title of the new book (a title she was rather unhappy with at first), frantic conversations with her editor, and trying hard to maintain the integrity of short stories she wrote 5 years ago by leaving them unchanged for the book (even though she often finds herself cringing at some today). She also mentioned that a feature film based on Half of a Yellow Sun is forthcoming, though she will not be involved in any aspect of the movie production. She did say that she expects the story will remain true to the original version as the same production team that brought The Last King of Scotland to the big screen will be producing this film.
Chimamanda is an extremely gifted story-teller who has accomplished a great deal at a young age, and she is well on her way to becoming one of the most distinguished African writers of our time. I particularly admire the fact that her stories focus on the complex, dynamic as well as positive livelihoods of people from the continent, and that she reserves a special place for African womanhood in her narratives.
Adichie describes herself as a very happy feminist. Strong women drive many of the stories in her books. She quietly supports women writers (Marie-Elena John, the Antiguan author of Unburnable, is a favourite) and backs women in politics in any country. But she stresses the word “happy,” she says, because to her being a feminist is about more than outrage; it is about being a woman who likes and stands up for other women. –Sydney Morning Herald
I really enjoyed meeting Chimamanda. I haven’t yet started reading my autographed (gasp!) copy of The Thing Around Your Neck but I am looking forward to devouring it very soon 🙂