by Alexander O. Onukwue
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: critically acclaimed author, thinker, and mother.
Easily one of the most influential names in the literary world today, the young woman who began her writings from the same room in which Chinua Achebe had lived on the campus of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, has become an enigmatic global phenomenon. A fabulous storyteller, ingenious animator, and a sparkly intellectual, Ms Adichie has made it almost effortlessly to the top of the ladder she began climbing from the publication of the award-winning novel, Purple Hibiscus, in 2003.
I have said that I probably got hyped into reading Chimamanda. Hearing of her works and the buzz around her being the new Achebe, it felt at times like I was in a cave because I had not read any. Her TED talks were like National Anthem. Everyone in my reading and intellectual circles was either effusive of or furious about what “The Danger of a Single Story” was supposed to mean. By the time I got around to see it, “We should all be Feminists” was already done with the runway.
I have now seen both talks, enjoyed them, and got the printed copy of WSABF, as well as Dear Ijeawele. So have I enjoyed Purple Hibiscus, and I’m somewhere along Ifemelu’s journey in Americanah (slow reader, yea). I have been afflicted with the reluctance that comes with seeing a movie before reading the book it was based on; so, I have not and may not read Half of a Yellow Sun.
Chimamanda is convinced in her ability to create a story and direct conversation; she is a proper story teller, beyond the hype that brought me to her altar. She has, as it were, taken me by hand into her sanctuary of letters and festered on me the ‘sacrament’ of her world woven in words of charming wit. She is fierce, firm and forthright.
While remaining suspicious of her universal call to feminism, I was interiorly pleased to stumble upon a video in which she was exuberant in expressing her passion for hair. I am not going to make many crazy hair styles in my life, but I am an ardent student of female kinks and buns. This is not to throw down a hair-naming gauntlet, but if I was, I’d start with ‘Shut up and drive’.
Beyond hair and language, Chimamanda is fierce. Oh, I’ve mentioned that before, but it deserves to be repeated. Because in a world where you have to conform, of political correctness (whatever it means these days), you would need to be fierce to not do so. She is her own person, not what others would label her to be. She defines her own worldview, not according to established or promoted types. That may or may not be a good thing depending on the premise of your worldview.
She is feminist, but maybe not the type defined in the crowd-sourced copybook. Beyonce Knowles now knows this, and academic feminists too. I think she is for the rights oyibo people say they are for, but within her own definition of them. She is for acknowledging differences, even if I’m yet to understand why she does not make the relation that fundamental physiological differences between men and women would equate to some measure of functional difference. She is the apostle of destroying gender roles but I don’t know how far that particular endeavour can go.
Does she want to be for “a sign that shall be contradicted”? In a Facebook post made in March, she tells, fondly, of how she received a gift from one of Nigeria’s most celebrated women of the past two decades, Mrs Dora Akunyili. According to her, she still keeps this gift for “superstitious” (I choose to see it as supernatural) reasons and as a fond item (perhaps relic?) for remembering Madam Akunyili.
That gift was a Rosary.
Now attaining what many perceive to be a significant age and a new stage of life, where she chooses to go next will be determined only by her; what she sees as her future in literature and in the world at large. Her daughter is now in her twenty-first month, still hidden from the world by this mother who usually goes all out in unabashedly sharing her thoughts from the rooftops. What influence will this vocation to shield her daughter from a changing America have on her outlook? A short story she exclusively wrote for Harper’s Bazaar in August, on the conflict between the duty to love and the tedium of routine, may give us an idea.
For now, let us admire and acknowledge the Chimamanda who has become a symbol of authority, a voice in politics and a reference in the arts. In 2015, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ was distributed to every 16-year-old high-school student in Sweden. Purple Hibiscus was a WAEC requirement at some point in Nigeria. She was recently named in a company of persons, which includes the likes of Obiageli Ezekwesili, as one of the most influential people of our time. Were we surprised? Not really: while watching Isoken, the beautifully directed Jade Osiberu film, all I could see was the influence of Chimamanda. From the choice of career assigned to Matt Rhys (Chimamanda’s spouse, Ivara Esege, is a doctor but took a photo used for one of her books), to the choice of Isoken (Dakore Akande, a lookalike) and the fact she could not cook, it looked like a film based on Ms Adichie’s philosophy. Then there are the honorary degrees, two this year alone, and other accolades from around the world, gradually reaching the number of those received by Akunyili. It is arguable that she actually has not received as much acclaim as she deserves. Would she have more now if she were not Nigerian? And would Nigerians acknowledge her more if she were not feminist?
To channel Wilfred Okiche, Chimamanda is not quite yet The Queen, but she is enviably placed royalty.
And she is still only forty.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija