Black History Month: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The mainstream world first heard Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s name in 2013 when Beyoncé dropped an album featuring the song “***Flawless,” in which she sampled this iconic passage from Adichie’s famed 2012 TEDxEuston talk:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors-- not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

However, Adichie was an icon long before being popularized by Beyoncé. She’s a renowned author with many published works, most of which she’s written to shed a light on critical issues such as sexism and racism, and the impact that they’ve had in her experiences as a Nigerian woman living in the United States.

 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on September 15, 1977, in Enugu, Nigeria. She enrolled in the University of Nigeria to study medicine, but after a while moved to America to study communications and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Later, she obtained a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and completed another master’s degree in African studies from Yale University.

She went on to become a novelist and published her first work of fiction, Purple Hibiscus (2003) when she was just 26 years old. It was critically acclaimed, but it was her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) that won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Next, she published a collection of short stories titled The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and the New York Times bestseller Americanah (2013). All of her books revolve around Nigeria, expanding on topics such as morality, colonialism, ethnicity, class, race, and the implications of being black in America. She has also published two book-length essays: We Should All Be Feminists (2014) and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017).

 

Apart from writing, Adichie has also given excellent TED Talks on two occasions. She was first featured in 2009, where she delivered “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this speech, she opens up about growing up in a middle-class family in Nigeria, and not truly recognizing her Africanness until moving to the United States. She emphasizes the importance of representation in the media, and how the lack of it can be dangerous, resulting in the cultivation of ignorant and erroneous images of other cultures. By giving examples of her personal experiences, she stresses that there’s always more than one side to any story, and it’s crucial to place yourself in another’s shoes in order to better understand the world and the other people that share it with you. To this day, the speech has more than 17 million views, earning a spot among the most popular TED Talks of all time. You can watch it here.

Adichie’s second speech, delivered in 2012 and titled “We Should All Be Feminists,” has relatively fewer views (two million) but is still very well-known, and it played an important part in kick-starting an extremely necessary conversation. Once again, she channels her own experiences to tackle the complicated and duplicitous concept of feminism, stripping the word of the bad reputation it's been assigned and redefining it to be inclusive of all who claim it. She exposes the gender-biased system that runs the world behind the scenes, revealing the many ways that both women and men suffer from it, and bases her speech on a call to action: we should all be feminists! You can watch it here.

Overall, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has made it a point in her career to speak out about her background, knowledge, and perspective as a black Nigerian woman. Identifying the absence of a wider variety of African literature, she stepped forward and contributed to diversifying it. She put pen to paper and offered herself and her experiences to the world with the goal of creating awareness and encouraging others, and that alone is incredibly badass.

 

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3