Like Chinua Achebe she is Igbo. His books showed her that:
“people like me, girls with skin the colour of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.”
- “Purple Hibiscus” (2003) – a coming of age story.
- “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2006) – about the Nigerian Civil War in which Igbos declared independence from Nigeria as the country of Biafra, under a flag with half of a yellow sun. A million people died (both her grandfathers among them). It is a period of history that has shaped Nigeria yet is sunk in silence.
- “Americanah” (2013) – a love story that takes place in Nigeria, America and Britain, addressing issues of race, natural hair, immigration, and identity.
“The Thing Around Your Neck” (2009) is a book of her short stories.
Her fiction is built out of true stories – like her parents’s experience of the civil war, her own experience of coming to America, even stuff she reads on blogs. But her writing is not thinly autobiographical: unlike Ifemelu in “Americanah”, for example, her life is much more boring and she has never blogged.
Her childhood: She grew up a professor’s daughter in Nsukka, a university town in south-eastern Nigeria. There she fell in love with books.
She has been writing ever since she learned to spell:
“I just write. I have to write. … I like to say that I didn’t choose writing, writing chose me. This may sound slightly mythical, but I sometimes feel as if my writing is something bigger than I am.”
But because she did well at school, she was expected to be a doctor.
Her studies: She studied medicine, but found herself wanting to write bad poetry instead. After two years she dropped out and, at age 19, came to America. She continued her studies, but not in medicine. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins and in African Studies from Yale.
Her race: In coming to America, she became Black. Back in Nigeria everyone is Black, so no one is Black. What matters is not race but ethnicity (Igbo in her case) and, especially, religion (fallen-away Catholic).
Race in the US, she found, is learned. For example, at first she did not know:
- why a man she did not know would call her “sister”;
- why liking watermelon should be controversial;
- why her professor was surprised by her writing skills.
Only when she learned Black American history did it all make sense. Only then did she see through the stereotypes.
Her hair: In Nigeria she was taught that her own natural hair was ugly, that straight hair was pretty. Only in the US did she begin to question that.
Her favourite writers: Enid Blyton, Chinua Achebe (especially “Arrow of God”), James Baldwin, Bessie Head, Flora Nwapa, Ama Ata Aidoo, Derek Walcott, etc.
– Abagond, 2016.
- Welcome to Black Women’s History Month 2016!
- Other posts having to do with Adichie
- favourite writers
- The watermelon stereotype