Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (born 15 September 1977) is a Nigerian writer of novels, short stories, and nonfiction. In 2008 she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. She was described in the Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”.
Personal life and education
Adichie, who was born in the city of Enugu in Nigeria, grew up the fifth of six children in an Igbo family in the university town of Nsukka in Enugu State. While she was growing up, her father, James Nwoye Adichie, was a professor of statistics at the University of Nigeria, and her mother, Grace Ifeoma, was the university’s first female registrar. Her family’s ancestral village is in Abba in Anambra State.
Adichie studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half. During this period, she edited The Compass, a magazine run by the university’s Catholic medical students. At the age of 19, Adichie left Nigeria for the United States to study communications and political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She soon transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University to be near her sister Uche, who had a medical practice in Coventry. She received a bachelor’s degree from Eastern, with the distinction of summa cum laude in 2001.
In 2003, she completed a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. In 2008, she received a Master of Arts degree in African studies from Yale University.
Adichie was a Hodder fellow at Princeton University during the 2005–06 academic year. In 2008 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. She was also awarded a 2011–12 fellowship by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.
Adichie divides her time between Nigeria, where she teaches writing workshops, and the United States. In 2016 she was conferred an honorary degree – Doctor of Humane letters, honoris causa, by Johns Hopkins University. In 2017 she was conferred honorary degrees – Doctor of Humane letters, honoris causa, by Haverford College, and The University of Edinburgh.
In a 2 July 2016 interview with the Financial Times she said that she had a baby daughter.
Adichie published a collection of poems in 1997 (Decisions) and a play (For Love of Biafra) in 1998. She was shortlisted in 2002 for the Caine Prize for her short story “You in America”, and her story “That Harmattan Morning” was selected as a joint winner of the 2002 BBC World Service Short Story Awards. In 2003, she won the O. Henry Award for “The American Embassy”, and the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003 (PEN Center Award). Her stories were also published in Zoetrope: All-Story, and Topic Magazine.
Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), received wide critical acclaim; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (2005).
Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), named after the flag of the shortlived nation of Biafra, is set before and during the Nigerian Civil War. It received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Half of a Yellow Sun has been adapted into a film of the same title directed by Biyi Bandele, starring BAFTA award-winner and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and BAFTA winner Thandie Newton, and was released in 2014.
Adichie’s third book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of 12 stories that explore the relationships between men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.
In 2010 she was listed among the authors of The New Yorker′s “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue. Adichie’s story “Ceiling”, was included in the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
Her third novel, Americanah (2013), an exploration of a young Nigerian encountering race in America, was selected by The New York Times as one of “The 10 Best Books of 2013”.
In April 2014, she was named as one of 39 writers aged under 40 in the Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club project Africa39, celebrating Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital 2014.
In 2015, she was co-curator of the PEN World Voices Festival.
In a 2014 interview, Adichie said on feminism and writing, “I think of myself as a storyteller, but I would not mind at all if someone were to think of me as a feminist writer… I’m very feminist in the way I look at the world, and that world view must somehow be part of my work.”
In March 2017, Americanah was picked as the winner for the “One Book, One New York” program, part of a community reading initiative encouraging all city residents to read the same book.
In April 2017, it was announced that Adichie had been elected into the 237th class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the highest honours for intellectuals in the United States, as one of 228 new members to be inducted on 7 October 2017. Her most recent book was published in March 2017 entitled Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.
Adichie spoke on “The Danger of a Single Story” for TED in 2009. Since her interview on TED Talks, it has become one of the top ten most-viewed TED Talks of all time, with over five millions views. On 15 March 2012, she delivered the “Connecting Cultures” Commonwealth Lecture 2012 at the Guildhall, London. Adichie also spoke on being a feminist for TEDxEuston in December 2012, with her speech entitled, “We should all be feminists”. It initiated a worldwide conversation on feminism, was published as book in 2014, and inspired a song by Beyonce. This speech was sampled for the 2013 song “***Flawless” by American performer Beyoncé, where it attracted further attention.
“The Danger of a Single Story” TED talk
Adichie spoke in a TED talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story”, posted in October 2009. In it, she expresses her concern for underrepresentation of various cultures. She explains that, as a young child, she had often read American and British stories where the characters were primarily of Caucasian origin.
At the lecture, she said that the underrepresentation of cultural differences could be dangerous: “Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.”
Throughout the lecture, she used personal anecdotes to illustrate the importance of sharing different stories. She briefly talks about the houseboy that was working for her family whose name is Fide, and how the only thing she knew about him was how poor his family was. However, when Adichie’s family visited Fide’s village, Fide’s mother showed them a basket that Fide’s brother had made, making her realize that she created her opinion about Fide based on only one story of him. Adichie said, “It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.” She also said that when leaving Nigeria to go to Drexel University, she encountered the effects of the underrepresentation of her own culture. Her American roommate was surprised that Adichie was fluent in English and that she did not listen to tribal music. She said of this: “My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”
Adichie concluded the lecture by noting the significance of different stories in various cultures and the representation that they deserve. She advocated for a greater understanding of stories because people are complex, saying that by only understanding a single story, one misinterprets people, their backgrounds, and their histories.
“We should all be feminists” TEDx talk, and “Flawless” song verse
In 2012, Adichie delivered a TEDx talk entitled: “We should all be feminists.” She shared her experiences of being an African feminist, and her views on gender construction and sexuality. Adichie said that the problem with gender is that it shapes who we are. She also said, “I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change, but in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.”
Parts of Adichie’s TED talk were sampled in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless” in December 2013.
Harper-Collins published an essay based on the speech as a standalone volume, We Should All Be Feminists in 2014. She later said in an NPR interview that “anything that gets young people talking about feminism is a very good thing.” She later qualified the statement in an interview with the Dutch magazine, De Volkskrant: “Another thing I hated was that I read everywhere: now people finally know her, thanks to Beyoncé, or: she must be very grateful. I found that disappointing. I thought: I am a writer and I have been for some time and I refuse to perform in this charade that is now apparently expected of me: ‘Thanks to Beyoncé, my life will never be the same again.’ That’s why I didn’t speak about it much.”
Adichie has clarified that her particular feminism differs from Beyoncé’s, particularly in their disagreements about the role occupied by men in women’s lives, saying that “Her style is not my style, but I do find it interesting that she takes a stand in political and social issues, since a few years. She portrays a woman who is in charge of her own destiny, who does her own thing, and she has girl power. I am very taken with that.” Nevertheless, she has been outspoken against critics who question the singer’s credentials as a feminist and said that “Whoever says they’re feminist is bloody feminist.”