Keside Anosike profiles Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Shoes, magic & the truth – A Chimamanda you don’t know (Y!/ Person of the Year 2014 Nominee)

by Keside Anosike

“Home is where my best shoes are”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in an interview with the world’s largest fashion magazine ELLE, sometime in February and I tell you it is true. I tell you that she has a great taste in shoes, just as she has an undying love affair with her country, Nigeria. It has all the elements of love: occasional disappointments, fleeting anger, the danger of approaching panic, overwhelming joy, but still, just like all true loves, she returns to it to nurture her and remind her of an alternate- what her life would have been if she were not Nigerian, if she didn’t have this floodlit love. Currently one of the most prominent contemporary authors in the world, her books have been translated to more than thirty languages, and the entire world is talking and discussing them and her ideas, swinging from race to inequality, to the woes of stereotypes. Her last novel Americanah won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books for 2013. In addition to writing several books, Adichie is known for her TED talks, “The Danger of a Single Story”, and now “We Should All Be Feminists”, infamously sampled by pop icon Beyonce. In the last year, she was Listed among Africa39 project of 39 writers aged under 40, and also nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the MTV Africa Music Awards 2014: Personality of the Year. “Half of a Yellow Sun” the movie hit the box office earlier in the year, and got massive recognition and everyone seemed to have something to say. The movie right to Americanah was also purchased by Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o, and is being worked on, alongside Brad Pitt.

Yes, she wears non-conformity on her sleeves and is ambitious for her beliefs; yes she cautions us against our need to tell stories of others to ourselves, against knowing the labels instead of the people, against becoming labels instead of people. But what is it that makes her so extraordinary? Because there are words, and there are words that are the truths. This is why we care so much to listen and read whatever it is she has to say- whether it is on Race, or Natural Hair, or on being a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men, her works make us understand the complexity of our humanity and cautions us against overbroad and hasty judgments. It is also apparent that her speech on Beyoncé’s “Flawless” awoke a band of feminists, ranging from nine year olds who sing to themselves in a mirror with a hair brush substituting a microphone, to young ladies who insist that their corporate lovers need not expect that their lives be rounded up differently because of their sex, and even, to men, who are wide eyed to the sometimes undeserved privileges gender allows them have. Everyone is a feminist; it is the badge to have on the left side of your chest. And while it may seem fancy to the outside world to be on a Beyoncé track, this is what makes Adichie happy the most: that her niece, as young as she is, identifies with the idea of feminism, and that already shapes a better world for her to grown into womanhood.

In the last year, the Y!Naija Person of the Year candidate has aired her views on so many social happenings, ranging from the draconian anti-gay law that punishes homosexuality with a life sentence in prison (which we did laugh about at her workshop, in all the ways it was received- the, “look at you, you will go to hell. Stop talking, you’re losing fans”) to the riveting satire that urged the government to take on another road map to governance. As anyone else who believes in the future of this country, silence is a baggage that shouldn’t be carried. However appealing it is to turn a blind eye- to play it safe and sweep these things under the rug and act as though they do not exist, as though school girls aren’t missing at all, as though the bombs that go off every now and then are only fireworks that send coils of smoke far up in the sky; that all is fair and we will all arrive at a golden future because some of us are prayerful and live in a perpetual dusk of incense, surrounded by dozens of statues of garishly bleeding saints and because our government sets up a committee immediately a bomb goes off,- it clears the room, airs it with a sense of newness; but you push in so much and it becomes a lump and evidently, a hazard one can trip on. It only slows the danger; it doesn’t keep it away. Adichie understands the importance of truth, in whatever angle it beams from.

Also the creative director of the Nigerian publishing house, Farafina, she is certainly a gift to this generation to awaken the zeal to embrace reading vastly, and as doing so, has the potential to teach and impact a great deal of knowledge. It will not be a false claim to say that Adichie reestablished a value for Nigerian literature in recent times.

I spent two weeks with Adichie in the summer, and on the first day, she looked at me and asked what I hoped to get from her Annual Literary Workshop (another feet worthy of commendation), and like a child eager to please that aunt that came around with goodies in her purse, I replied “I came to find magic”. It was then that I was rebuked. Her laugh is full of teeth and her forehead wrinkles as she says, “there is no magic here, I’m sorry.” She is not prone to the inexplicable. There is no magic, and things are black and white. It is important that we, as youths, do not see the future, as something magical wrapped with ribbons, waiting at the end of a road bend to be unfolded. It is important that while we are always moving at breakneck speed into the future, we must remember our past and acknowledge that it birthed where we are now. If anything, the future always turns out to be everything we never expected, but still we will live in it. Try to survive in it. The work is to do it now, with our best foot in our best shoes, in front.

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