The Powerful Voice of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

While home on fall break, I went to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie address an audience at the University of Minnesota. Perhaps most known for her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” (one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time), parts in Béyonce’s “***Flawless” and her published essay “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie is a prolific author of short stories, poetry, essays and novels. She began her talk by reading a short story of hers entitled “How Did You Feel About It?” that narrated the morning of an unhappy couple in a train carriage, originally published in Harper’s Bazaar. 

Adichie has become an internationally recognized proponent of feminism without even intending to gain much recognition for her opinions and pieces surrounding women’s equality. While being interviewed during the event, she discussed the burden of representing such a global and vast movement—especially in her native country of Nigeria, where she continues to live part-time. The cultural norms surrounding gender expectations in Nigeria that repress women’s autonomy often remain. Her essays—and most obviously, “We Should All Be Feminists”—argue in favor of women’s equality to their male counterparts in political, social and economic spheres; however, the characters within her fictional novels also often reflect these sentiments. They are strong mothers, sisters, wives, partners, friends and daughters that bluntly deliver truth and fight for spaces in which they can be heard—especially within the intimate relationships of family and friends.

During the interview, she was asked about how her essays usually tell stories rather than utilizing statistics to convey a message. Adichie said that just a week earlier she read a book that she loved, but she was unable to remember the statistics within it. Instead, she recalled the human stories that the work captured, and therefore feels strongly that our common humanity and our connection to narratives allows us to gain better empathy and perspective. In this way, she connects her novels and short stories to her essays. Adichie utilizes personal narratives to relate audiences to her perspectives, including the importance of autonomy and equity in all areas of life.

While listening to Adichie speak, I could not help but consider how statistics and numbers often shape politics and policy—how we argue our points in numerical values rather than human emotions. However, we connect with one another on an emotional scale, and the writing that so often resonates with us comes from the stories that capture a shared history or pull at our hearts. Adichie said that the specificity of one’s story is precisely what makes it universal; our differences are what enable us to build a more diverse and empathetic society. 

Whether you take four minutes to listen to “***Flawless,” use twenty minutes to watch her TED Talks or set aside hours to read one of her novels, Adichie’s perspective on the importance of the female voice remains evident in all of her work. She is a powerful reminder of the equity we must continually strive for and the diversity of stories we must demand to hear.

 

Image 1 courtesy of TED Talks. Image 2 courtesy of The New Yorker. Image 3 courtesy of The Guardian.