Students will ask me about favorite living authors, and it is a bit like choosing body parts to lose. Why an anxiety over a simple expression of preference? Because — you throw a name out there, among many such deserving names, and giving it breath gives it life. Commitment, there is, to life — once spoken: an obligation, a responsibility, an ownership. Volunteering such a selection that represents your inner workings, what you perceive and how you want to be perceived, has many varied routes that range from genuine to pedantic to clever to paternalistic to encouraging.
I am fortunate, at this question, that I can name Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And you, reading this, too, are fortunate that you can name Adichie, operating under the hopeful assumption that if you are not familiar with her work, you can be!
(And also that you aren’t scared by pronunciation, which is, per a publisher:
Chim-muh-MAHN-duh en-GOH-zee ah-DEECH-ee-(ay),
the “ay” being soft, like an exquisite breath following a name like poetry.)
I first encountered her incredible nuance and artfully measured characterizations in reading Americanah (2013) for a college course. This novel, centering on the Nigerian and American-immigrant experiences of a perceptive and independent young writer, with occasional interwoven threads of a lost love, was eye-opening for me. Having lived so long, through the classroom or the need for cheaply-attained bookshelf fillings, in the classics or in genres, I had doubted a contemporary work’s ability to affect me so profoundly. But the words! Flowing at once dexterous and durable; built, like a braid of hair, upon energy, identity, and culture. This novel allows a glimpse of modern America from a liminal perspective that is world-widening and contemplative. Simply put, the first piece of literary fiction published, and then read by me in “real-time”, that caught my sense of temporal and spatial habitation. If it wasn’t for Americanah, my reading scope, while still fairly diverse, would not be including a crucial, culturally-resonant moment.
This cultural resonance is reflected in a pair of Adichie TED talks which encapsulate the shoaling before many of our current cultural waves swelled and broke.
“The Danger of a Single Story” (2009) examines cultural lenses and embedded, preclusionary narratives regarding race and nationality:
“We Should All Be Feminists” (2012), which was later published in a handy, pocket-sized book, takes a much-needed, skeptical look at why “feminism” has become a controversial group to belong in, another incisive look at how language can subtly, and nefariously – whether intentional or not – shape our perspectives:
You can follow up these thoughts with Adichie’s most recent publication, an essay written as advice to a friend that also serves as a notes on motherhood and celebrating your work, as well as two other novels, a short story collection, and some pieces for The New Yorker. It’s a sacred responsibility, as the promoter of reading in our public schools system, to provide suggestions meaningful, challenging, and/or thought-provoking. For readers looking for something mature, progressive, and even happy – check out this author to appreciate: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.