Author and feminist icon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hit Dublin on Wednesday night, Sophie White reports
Rocking up to the convention centre on the eve of the Dublin International Literary festival, one was met with a sight that thrills a feminist heart, WOMEN! Out in fierce force. The “bad feminist” in me wanted a large-scale data collection of every statement lip and thoroughly excellent outfit in the place. The “marginally better feminist” in me was bursting with excitement to hear the feminist gospel of Nigerian author and activist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Adichie published her first novel, Purple Hibiscus to great acclaim aged just 25 after ditching her studies in medicine. In conversation with author, editor and broadcaster, Sinead Gleeson, she explained the impetous behind undertaking a degree in medicine that she didn’t feel any passion for. “It was practical, I needed to be practical and earn a living. I hated it.” The daughter of a university professor and the first female registrar in a Nigerian university, Adichie had a great model for the enormous success she’s achieved in publishing and academia. “I love the phrase, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” she tells Gleeson.
Adichie spoke about going to America for the first time and becoming suddenly aware of her blackness and being seen as “other” in this new society. “Walking down the street in Manhattan, a guy said ‘hey sister’ and I thought ‘I’m not your sister!'”
Before landing a publisher for Purple Hibiscus, Adichie had completed a manuscript – a story intended to emulate the trend of ’emigration lit’ that Adichie observed to be popular at the time. “I replaced the Indian or Asian characters with Nigerian ones. And it was terrible,” she laughs.
Adichie feels that her work has to come from an authentic place, and it is this quality that has attracted a captive and loyal audience in the years since.
Since then her work has been translated into over thirty languages. She has been published in every important publication you can name, including The New Yorker, Granta, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope.
Her next novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. She followed that success with 2013’s Americanah, which was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013 and scored the National Book Critics Award.
Beyond her fiction work, Adichie has become a vital voice in the global conversation about racism, privilege and feminism. Her first TED Talk, The Danger Of A Single Story is one of the most viewed of the series to date – 15 million views as of publish. Her follow up 2012’s We Should All Be Feminists went on to be published in book form in 2014.
To a rapt audience in Dublin, Adichie shared her perspective on the knotty issue of ‘white feminism’ – a tendency in Western feminist discourse to ignore the issues and experience of women of colour.
While she certainly acknowledged the existence of this problematic brand of feminism, she mused: “The white woman has privilege because she’s white but she gets crap because she is a woman.”
“When we talk about racism every one gets it but with sexism I’m constantly asked to prove it,” she continued.
Adichie speaks simply and with great clarity on these issues. She is also very funny, joking that she barely knows which (feminist) wave is which at this stage. Of course, Adichie can make this joke precisely because she’s done the leg work. She famously pulled up Hilary Clinton for the fact that among her attributes in her Twitter bio, ‘wife’ was listed first.
“Bill doesn’t have ‘husband’ does he?” reasoned Adichie.
“Is it about appealing to people who need to see a woman in a domestic role foremost?” she wonders. “Female socialisation is all about men, we need men to aspire to marriage,” she laughs.
“Even for progressive couples the roles are gendered,” says Adichie. When Gleeson referenced the knee-jerk question virtually every successful woman is asked in interview “who’s minding the children?” Adichie laughed ruefully.
“Men are not even expected to know they have children! And then they get excessive praise when they do something they should be doing anyway,” she laughed shaking her head.
On the issue of the forthcoming referendum, Adichie expressed disbelief that this conversation was even happening in 2018.
“I read a long piece in the Financial Times recently, and I couldn’t believe it.”
“It’s a lack of value for the lives of women and it’s inhumane. We need to grow a culture that values women and if we had that, we wouldn’t be having this debate.”
Adichie then read a extarct from her 2017 book Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions in which she trained her critical eye on the concept of motherhood as an overarching identity, an identity that can impact women negatively if it begins to overshadow her sense of self. My friend and I probably nodded most vigorously during this section, given we both have young children at home and are grappling with retaining our sense of self before a tide of wet wipes, rice cakes and domestic admin.
Adichie opened with a passage concerning motherhood and work. “Be a full person,” she advised. “You don’t have to love your job just what it does for you.”
“Remember ‘father’ as much of a verb as ‘mother’, steel your socially conditioned sense of duty and share the work… With true equality, resentment does not exist,” our head-nodding was hitting a fever pitch at this point.
“I wouldn’t be a good mother if I wasn’t a full person,” said Adichie who has a two-year-old daughter.
During the Q&A portion, there were outpourings of gratitude from women for whom Adichie’s work holds a sacred place. One woman asked how we could raise feminist boys, the recent events in Belfast clearly in everyone’s thoughts
“We have a problem now with young men performing strength. If I had a boy I would expect him to cry. In fact, I would shame him if he didn’t cry,” Adichie jokes. “I wouldn’t think of ‘boy things’ I would buy him a pink tee shirt!
A standing ovation bid Adichie farewell, the “good feminist” me was sad it was over, the “bad feminist” me was gutted we’d never gotten the run down of her outfit details but a bit of Insta-stalking led me to Adichie’s ‘Wear Nigerian’ project and revealed that she is wearing almost exclusively Nigerian made and designed clothing for her public appearances. So we can now follow chimamanda_adichie for style inspiration and read her work for every other kind of inspiration.