OCTOBER 10, 2014 – AWARD-WINNING NIGERIAN NOVELIST Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told a Georgetown audience today that she found it “heartbreaking” that the American news media didn’t pick up on the Ebola virus crisis until there were huge death tolls and a United States victim.
“I think it has a lot to do with the lack of value that’s placed on Africa as a place that’s inhabited by human beings,” Adichie said to an audience of faculty, staff and students in historic Gaston Hall. “I think if Ebola was happening somewhere other than Africa, I don’t know that this level of hysteria would exist.”
Author of the novels Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), which touch upon race, gender and identity, Adichie said she wanted to write books as an African writer even if it mean a long and arduous search for an agent.
The latter novel became a movie released earlier this year.
African Studies Director Scott Taylor moderated a discussion with Adichie about her latest novel, Americanah (2013), about a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for her education and and faces racism in America.
“One of the things I found most compelling about Americanah was not its unfamiliarity, but its familiarity,” Taylor said.
Noting that there were many African students in the audience, Taylor talked about the experience of living in two different cultures and the students' interest in using their education to make contributions and help solve problems their home communities.
“The first thing you need to realize is you don’t have all the answers,” Adichie said, encouraging students to temper their expectations when returning home. “And often, actually, the answers are local.”
She said it is important to “engage with what’s going on politically and socially in Nigeria and deal with the what it is instead of what you wish it were.”
IGNORE THE AUDIENCE
Adichie also talked about the role of publishing in a writer’s life.
“Looking at my career in particular, if I had been thinking about audience and marketing, I probably wouldn’t have done what I’ve done,” she said.
She urged aspiring writers not to worry about audience when writing because it could result in self-censorship.
PRIZES VS. MERIT
Though Adichie is an award-winning author, she noted that often labels such as “African literature” and prizes for that mantle are not based on the content or art itself.
“The labels have less to do with literary merit and art – they’re political considerations,” the author explained.
“I think prizes in general are good things because they bring readers to books, but I also think that prizes are about power and politics and often about much more than the art,” she said.