“I want to write about things that I care about. And hopefully other people will care about them too.”
I just spent a wonderful lunch hour at the RSA listening to my amazing cousin Ellah Allfrey, deputy editor of Granta, in conversation with Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, the brilliant writer of Half of a Yellow Sun and now the just published Americanah.
They talked engagingly about the enjoyment of love stories, the politics of natural african hair, the discomfort people feel in discussing race, and the importance of embracing your own cultural language.
“People so often have much more access to realities that are not theirs.”
Ellah concluded her interview by thanking Chimimanda for the generosity of her answers, but this writer wasn’t just generous she was searingly honest in every response - often pausing to double check that she had said exactly how she felt about a subject.
I particularly enjoyed her retelling of a conversation with a Norwegian friend of hers, who queried whether she was not just a writer but also a social engineer. Chimimanda didn’t see this as an accusation as much as a compliment and proudly embraced the idea that in talking about her work she is also trying to change the world around her for the better.
She delivers such powerful statements, which undoubtedly come from her core beliefs and yet are delivered with utter charm, a gorgeous smile, and a lightness of touch that is filled with humour. Plus, just take a look at those kick-ass shoes!
“I want the whole world to be full of fierce feminists, and to be passionate about natural hair, and for Nigeria to rule the world. Oh alright, Africa.”
I’m looking forward to reading Americanah, which Chimimanda describes as an unapologetic love story that is “very happily unsubtle.” She cheerfully admitted to being inspired by the ultimate romantic literary archetype of Mills & Boon, which she devoured as a teenager. Dismissing the difference between genre writing and literature she said, “It’s either well written or it isn’t.” And with adamant finality, “Love stories are important.” Full stop.
If you haven’t seen Chimimanda’s forthrightness in action I urge you take some time out of your day to watch her TED talk. The Danger of a Single Story.