Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer whose works include novels, short stories and nonfiction. She was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [which] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature,” particularly in the United States, her second home. In honor of the 10 year anniversary of her famed novel, Americanah, explore more about this stellar author and her variety of great reads.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Adichie was raised around education and forward thinking. Her father worked as a professor of statistics at the University of Nigeria while her mother became the first female registrar at the same university. Unfortunately, they lost everything including both her grandfathers during the Nigerian Civil War.
She first began studying medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, but by 19 she left for the US to study communications and political science. And, of course, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Connecticut State University.
In 2002, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing 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 David T. Wong International Short Story Prize. That same year she completed her master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. In 2008, Adichie graduated from Yale University with a Master of Arts degree in African studies.
Throughout her academic career, Adichie was a Hodder fellow at Princeton University, awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, or “Genius Grant”, and a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from Harvard University. By 2022, Adichie has been awarded 16 honorary doctorate degrees.
Adichie’s initial inspiration came from Chinua Achebe, when she read his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart at the age of 10. From this she realized that people who looked like herself could “live in books.” She has also named Buchi Emecheta as a Nigerian literary inspiration, upon whose death Adichie said: “Buchi Emecheta. We are able to speak because you first spoke. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your art Nodu na ndokwa.” Other books Adichie has cited as having been important in her reading include Camara Laye’s The African Child and the 1992 anthology Daughters of Africa edited by Margaret Busby.
Purple Hibiscus (2003)
Purple Hibiscus is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.
Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.
As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.
Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
Half of a Yellow Sun re-creates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the chilling violence that followed.
With empathy and great skill, Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the beautiful mistress of Odenigbo, a professor for whom she has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, Kainene, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and the three must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.
It is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race, and the ways in which love can complicate them all. Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise and the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place, bringing us one of the most powerful, dramatic, and intensely emotional pictures of modern Africa that we have ever had.
In 2013 director Biyi Bandele adapted Adichie’s novel for the big screen. The film features Thandiwe Newton as Olanna, Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Odenigbo, John Boyega as Ugwu, and Joseph Mawle as Richard.
The Thing Around Your Neck (2009)
Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck map the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them with twelve riveting stories explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.
In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death.
The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them.
Americanah, celebrating its 10 year anniversary, is the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race, belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time.
Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion for each other and for their homeland.
We Should All Be Feminists (2014)
We Should All Be Feminists is a book-length essay inspired by Adichie’s much-admired TEDx talk of the same name. It’s main focus is to talk about the definition of feminism for the 21st century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness.
She argues that “feminist” isn’t an insult, but rather a label that should be embraced by all. While feminism advocates for equity and equality between men and women in all aspects of life, the fiercest opponents of women’s liberation believe that feminism is a social movement that focuses on reversing gender roles and making men inferior. She succinctly unearths the need to transform social beliefs and gender constructs that promote the disparity between men and women. In essence, we should all be feminists not only as a commitment to women’s liberation but also as a way of encouraging men to engage in conversations with women on sexuality, appearance, roles, and success.
Being a feminist entails championing for the rights of women and trying to make the world a better place for women. Feminism does not entirely challenge the biological roles of each gender as it only intends to revolutionize sexism by creating equal chances and opportunities for women and men. Feminism views people as human beings and aims to tackle the social injustices that silence people’s will and power to exceed social expectations. Therefore, becoming a feminist normalizes women’s success and allows men to strive to achieve even more in life.
Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is Adichie’s exploration of what it means to be a woman in today’s world.
Notes On Grief (2021)
Notes on Grief is an exquisite work of meditation, remembrance, and hope, written in the wake of Adichie’s beloved father’s death in the summer of 2020.
Expanding on her original New Yorker piece, Adichie shares how this loss shook her to her core. She writes about being one of the millions of people grieving this year; about the familial and cultural dimensions of grief and also about the loneliness and anger that are unavoidable in it. With signature precision of language, and glittering, devastating detail on the page, and never without touches of rich, honest humor, Adichie weaves together her own experience of her father’s death with threads of his life story.
From his remarkable survival during the Biafran war, through a long career as a statistics professor, into the days of the pandemic in which he’d stay connected with his children and grandchildren over video chat from the family home in Abba, Nigeria, Adichie captures his life and story in a compact format. She truly delivers a gem of a book – a book that fundamentally connects us to one another as it probes one of the most universal human experiences. Notes on Grief is a read for this moment—a work readers will treasure and share now more than ever, and yet will prove durable and timeless, an indispensable addition to Adichie’s canon.
For some amazing feminist quotes by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, click here!