Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words cleanse the mind. They are profound, creative and thought provoking.
Adichie is the fifth of six children born to high achieving parents. Her mother, Grace Ifeoma, was the first female registrar at the University of Nigeria and her father, James Nwoye Adichie, was Nigeria’s first professor of statistics. He later became Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the same institution.
With a power couple for parents, Adichie acquired a reading habit by the age of four.
After secondary school, Adichie studied medicine at the University of Nigeria, switched to pharmacy, and then gave it up to go to the United States (US), when she was 19, a year and a half into her studies. She obtained a scholarship to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia for two years, and went on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Adichie graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2001. She later completed a master’s degree in creative writing at John Hopkins University. In 2005, she was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, and earned a master’s degree in African studies from Yale University in 2008.It was while there that she began writing Purple Hibiscus, published when she was 26. Her work has been translated into 30 languages.
Walk along Fife Street in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and you will see some of the country’s most expensive schools and scores of students sharing a laugh in the blistering sun. Look closely, and you will see many clutching Purple Hibiscus, a work studied in many high schools across Africa.
“Purple Hibiscus is one of the greatest books I have ever read. There is so much struggle and oppression in the book that I can relate to as an African. The ways she writes and describes things like heat in the book is intriguing and make it a good read. To see an African write like this is very inspiring because it shows that we can all tell our stories no matter where we come from. To think she was just 26 years old when she wrote it makes it even more intriguing,” says pupil, Charmaine Hlatshwayo, from Mzilikazi High School in Bulawayo.
Half of a Yellow Sun and the short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, were Adichie’s next great works.
She has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Orange Prize, the New York Times Notable Book prize, a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year prize and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist.
Adichie is often described as the successor of the late Chinua Achebe. It’s a fitting coincidence that she grew up in a house that once belonged to Achebe, Nigeria’s most celebrated writer.
“Because of writers like Chinua Achebe, I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized,” said Adichie at her TEDx 2009 talk, The Danger Of A Single Story.
The talk has drawn almost two million views online.
Born in Nsukka, Nigeria, on September 15, 1977, Adichie encountered injustice as she grew up. As a result, for years, the Nigerian author has inspired many with her written work and become part of pop culture. Her speeches are as powerful as her fiction.
“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 men.’ 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… But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same…”says Adichie at the TEDx Euston talk titled We Should All Be Feminists, in 2012.
This talk made Adichie Beyoncé’s favorite feminist. Beyoncé sampled parts of this speech on her track, Flawless in 2014. The song reportedly topped iTunes charts in 104 countries and sold nearly 850,000 copies in three days.
“I think Chimamanda is the fearless woman’s voice that has become the drumbeat of feminism. She is intelligent, articulate and knows how to use her voice to speak for women on the international stage,” says Zimbabwean author Raisedon Baya.
But that’s not all.
Adichie’s latest book, Americanah, a best-selling novel, is being turned into a movie, with award-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o as lead. Brad Pitt is the producer, through his Plan B production banner along with Nyong’o and Andrea Calderwood.
The founder and treasurer of the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa (ANFASA), Monica Seeber, says “ANFASA is delighted that an author has been selected for the FORBES AFRICA [lifetime achievement award]. This is recognition that authors have the power to influence people, events and thinking far beyond their own personal spheres. The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Adichie is carrying a banner for every woman who has grown up in Africa. In a few years, she has placed African women’s literature on the world map which makes us wonder what she will achieve in the next 20 years.