BY OLUSANYA IBINOLA
TODAY, September 15th, is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s birthday, and so it won’t be out of the ordinary to celebrate this stellar Nigerian who has achieved so much already at a young age.
But maybe we should not be surprised. After all, the late great Chinua Achebe said of Chimamanda early in her career, ‘We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers…Adichie came almost fully made.’
Born in 1977, and hailing from Abba, Njikoka L.G.A. of Anambra State, Chimamanda grew up on the campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka- where her father was a Professor of Statistics – in fact, the first Professor of Statistics in Nigeria. Chimamanda’s mother – in another first – was the first female Registrar of the University.
She has been writing from the age of four, with her very first publication while in JSS 3 at the University Secondary School in Nsukka. She subsequently also achieved the best WAEC result in the school.
Chimamanda entered UNN to study medicine, however, she left at the age of 19 for the US, where she applied her academic brilliance in a new direction. She graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a First Class bachelors’ degree in Communications and Political Science.
She also holds two Master’s Degrees in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and in African History from Yale University.
In 2008, Chimamanda was awarded a Macarthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Macarthur Genius Award.
Chimamanda’s work is read around the world, and has been translated into over thirty languages.
Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and is used in school curriculums around the world, including in Nigeria.
Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the 2007 Orange Prize (now called the Bailey’s Prize), which is the world’s top prize for female writers.
Chimamanda’s third novel Americanah was published in 2013, and received numerous accolades, including winning the U.S. National Books Critic Circle Award. The award is the most prestigious literary prize in the U.S. because it is selected by professional book critics.
A television adaptation of Americanah is currently being co-produced by Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B.
In October 2018, she was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, named in honor of Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter.
With many of these awards, including the Orange Prize, the Macarthur Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN Pinter Prize, she has the distinction of being the first Nigerian and in fact, the first African, to receive these recognitions.
Chimamanda is also a highly sought-after speaker, and has delivered keynote speeches around the world. She has also given two landmark TED talks: her 2009 TED Talk ‘The Danger of A Single Story’- and her 2012 TEDx Euston talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, which started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was sampled by Beyoncé in her song ‘Flawless’.
She has appeared in conversation with some of the leading figures of our time: interviewing Hillary Clinton during the PEN World Voices Festival in New York, and former First Lady Michelle Obama in London.
She has received 14 honorary Doctorate degrees from leading universities: including from one of her alma maters, Yale University.
Chimamanda is also seen as a style icon, and was included in Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed List in 2016. In 2017, she launched her own project, “Wear Nigerian,” to promote Nigerian brands and designers.
Chimamanda is dedicated to assisting aspiring writers, and eleven years ago founded an annual Creative Writing Workshop in Nigeria. She is committed to Nigeria, and her deep love for our country is evident in her work. In 2011 the Nigerian government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, awarded her the Global Ambassador Achievement Award.
Chimamanda has however, unfortunately often been misrepresented by some Nigerians, and is also perceived by some as deliberately seeking to cause controversy. Nothing could be further from the truth. She IS committed to frankly speaking her mind, and sometimes on difficult topics. Ironically, it is only in Nigeria where she is perceived as ‘controversial’. Nowhere else in the world is that the case.
The author’s personal life choices have also not been spared unreasonable criticism. She was attacked by some Nigerians for ‘disrespecting the traditional status of marriage’ because she chose neither to adopt the title “Mrs.” nor to change her name after getting married, even though she said very clearly that it was a matter of personal choice and that that it was completely valid for women to choose to be referred to as “Mrs.”. After all, her own mother goes by Mrs. Adichie.
Of course, Chimamanda has been recognised in Nigeria for her many achievements. But often, her words are taken completely out of context, or a misleading ‘headline’ is created. In this age of social media and instant reactions, often people do not actually read the article or watch the video that the ‘headline’ supposedly represents and a ‘controversy’ with accompanying ‘outrage’ is created.
A classic example was the Hillary Clinton interview. Chimamanda made a tongue-in-cheek comment about being ‘just a little bit upset’ upon finding out that Hillary Clinton’s Twitter bio began with ‘wife’- in contrast to Mrs. Clinton’s husband’s own bio. This did not sit well with some Nigerians and they took to social media to call out the author for lacking respect for Mrs. Clinton’s choice to define herself as she saw fit. What an irony (and hypocritical), that the validity of Mrs. Clinton’s right to personal choice was being paraded here by a handful of Nigerians who likely had a problem with Chimamanda’s own choice to keep her name after she got married. Hillary Clinton in fact DID change her Twitter bio, showing that not only was she not offended, but that she agreed with Chimamanda. This abruptly silenced the mob.
These are just two examples of the various ways Chimamanda’s words have been misrepresented in Nigeria over the years. It is unfortunate that this happens so often, and only in her own country. However, irrespective of criticism, she loves her country and cares deeply about her fellow Nigerians.
Maybe some should take a little more time to actually read an article or watch a video that has created a ‘controversy’, and not just react to a ‘headline’. Chimamanda’s dedication to Nigeria surely deserves that small effort. She has become a global figure, celebrated around the world- but is a proud Nigerian first and foremost. So today, we celebrate “our” Chimamanda, who is after all, one of us.