Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Image courtesy: talatu-carmen
On April 4 of this year, I was privileged hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie present a talk at RIT. Ms. Adichie is a world-renown author from Nigeria with two novels and a collection of short stories.
Sitting in the audience with her newest book in my lap, my husband and I were scouring the room to see if she had arrived. After attending a wedding featuring a groom and several guests from Nigeria, I expected to recognize Ms. Adichie by her clothes—a brightly colored gele on her head, perhaps. When we finally spotted her, the only thing to hint at her country of origin were the colors in her top. But when she started to speak, it was obvious she warn’t from ‘round here.
As a southerner, I love a crisp British accent. English from her lips is a beautiful thing. Ms. Adichie joked about reading a story as a child in which someone ate a bagel. In her young mind, she read it with the accent on the second syllable, making it sound fancy.
I had the reverse problem. I had to take the ‘fancy’ way she pronounced certain words and translate them back to boring. ‘World’ sounded like ‘wall’ and I was confounded on what, exactly, a ‘perry-fairy’, could be. Can you guess? (I’ll put the answer at the end.)
It wasn’t just the sound of her words that was magnificent, but her entire presentation. She is one of those rare people who combine high intelligence with wit—someone you could listen to all night.
One of the reoccurring themes in her talk was other people’s expectations of her as both an African and an African writer. When she arrived in America for college, she recalled the disappointment of her roommates when meeting her for the first time. Her fellow students weren’t expecting someone fluent in English or someone wearing . . . jeans. (How silly of them! Ummm—yeah.)
When she wrote her first book, it was criticized for not being ‘African enough’. It wasn’t about AIDS and starvation. Nor were there any lions, elephants, or giraffes roaming about. Instead the main character was the daughter of a prominent businessman. They had a nice, two-story house and a car. (Unfortunately, the father is abusive and scary as all get-out.)
Of all the barriers there are to getting published, that would be a kicker, huh? To have your character’s world—the world you live in—judged not authentic.
Her talk is online here. My husband asks a question around 60 minutes about a character from Purple Hibiscus.
Perry-fairy = periphery (Did you figure it out?)