The day I met Chimamanda Adichie … a writing goddess

It is an exhilarating prospect – meeting one’s idol. It felt no less so on the day I met this writing goddess, for indeed she is just that to me. I have been in awe of Adichie for quite some time, and I was going to see her – at the 7th annual Igbo Conference themed around Memory, Culture & Community. I would share her presence, this writer who has quite simply become a phenom.

Adichie has transcended the writing world for sure, and for good reason. She champions causes clearly dear to her, and with her, art, with much gusto, meets reality. Her works, from Hibiscus to Yellow Sun, and then Americanah particularly, speak to us through the unabashed voices of female heroines. Her women speak, boldly, they act, they make decisions, they have agency, they are unhindered by the complicated narratives of male female power dynamics, which still often is steeped firmly on the side of patriarchal dominance in modern African settings. She challenges notions through her work. We Should All Be Feminists, is a clarion call to men and women alike to do better, for all our sakes. Yet it is to be noted that this call is heeded in various circles of import, because of the voice behind the message. Hers, has become a truly powerful voice. Adichie is a woman … Adichie is powerful – I say it this way, for I’d like to think she would rather prefer these descriptors to stand for themselves.

For obvious reasons, Adichie has become a cult figure to me. I write. She writes phenomenally well. There could be no clearer version of hero worship. I delight in reading her works – yet she is all the more enthralling when she speaks. She speaks as though you were reading her work. The magic behind her writing was unravelling itself as I listened. Adichie, is a master storyteller in print, because Adichie is a master oral storyteller.

Dele Ogun & I with his work, A Fatherless People

We were at the auditorium at the Brunei gallery at SOAS, waiting – for me, with bated breath, until she walked in, in style. She bedazzled, and promptly requested the audience to look at her yellow akwete trousers – a spot of local talent championing. The audience purred in delight. Mind you, I think Adichie, with her sense of style, has several other career choices at her fingertips, should she will it; though I have no wish to see this day.

Chimamanda Adichie

She gave the keynote lecture –Igbo bu Igbo, meaning Igbo is Igbo. To the uninitiated, she was positing that those of the Igbo tribe should not feel less so for reasons of inability to speak the language, being born in diaspora, being from a geographical part not considered core Igbo. To me, it was a plea for unity amongst Igbos.

But her theme of choice, was the strength and resilience of the Igbo woman. And boy, did she make this clear. Her time at Yale had offered scores upon scores of historical records and accounts of the Igbo – a failing in our record systems if you ask me. The Igbo woman of pre-colonial times was strong, dynamic and vibrant, surprising the Western colonialists whose women did not hold such sway in their lands, Adichie told us. This brought a change to things, and the modern fight for equality between men and women, in at least the Igbo setting, is really harkening back to our past, where for instance women cropped everything but the sacred yam, and owned land, and such, invariably had power.

Book stand outside Brunei Gallery at SOAS

She spoke of culture as being what we make it –not stagnant and stale, but forward looking and uplifting.
She took questions, I flailed my arm endlessly, and luckily got the last question.

How did she feel, as an Igbo woman, writing (in Half of A Yellow Sun) about the horrors of the Biafran War as perpetrated by the Vandals on Igbo women and children, I asked. And as a truist of sorts, she aptly reminded me that some Igbo soldiers were just as guilty of these crimes, and that she had often stopped, and wept.

A poem by Ogenna Ojukwu inspired by Adichie’s novel, Half of A Yellow Sun

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