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Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about grief, feminism and identity

| Monday, March 28, 2022

New York Times bestselling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Friday. Adichie’s novels “Americanah,” “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “Purple Hibiscus” explore themes of feminism and race both in Adichie’s native Nigeria and in the United States. Adichie is a MacArthur Genius Grant winner and is known for her TED talks, “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminists.” 

Adichie’s lecture is part of the Sr. Kathleen Cannon, O.P. Distinguished Lecture Series designed to bring “extraordinary women” to Notre Dame’s campus.

Adichie began by reading an excerpt from “Notes on Grief,” her recent essay about losing her father in the summer of 2020. She said grief was a “cruel kind of education” and reflected on experiencing the loss with her family during the pandemic.

“Our Zoom call is beyond surreal,” she said. “All us weeping and weeping and weeping in different parts of the world … It was extreme how desperately I wished that Nigerian airports were open so I could get a flight to Lagos and then to Asaba and drive the hour to my hometown to see my father for myself.” 

She also discussed “Zikora,” a collection of short fiction stories she released in October 2020. “Zikora” intertwines an honest depiction of childbirth with stories about how patriarchal structures persist in lives that appear free of them.

“There’s just so much about the experiences that women go through that I want to demystify,” she said. “I want to shed the shame attached to so much that comes with femaleness in the world.”  

“Zikora” also explores the resentment between mothers and daughters.

“The resentment is really not about the individuals,” Adichie said. “It’s about this larger structure that women are forced to live in.”

Adichie also discussed feminism in her lecture.

“The world is a misogynistic space … and I worry because misogyny can come sort of wrapped in the language of love, so we hold women to higher standards, which is unfair,” she said. “We then sometimes judge them more harshly for things that we wouldn’t judge men for.”

She said she has been closely following Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and she feels Jackson has been questioned “in the most disrespectful, unacceptable and misogynistic way.”

“If we live in a country where a white man can scream like a toddler when he’s being questioned and he still gets confirmed, we should also get to a point where a Black woman can say “shut up” and still be praised for it,” Adichie said.

Discussing her unique perspective on race in her works, Adichie explained how her Black identity was not one she grew up with but one she came to take on when she came to America as a student.

“In Nigeria, I was an Igbo person, and I was a Catholic,” she said.I hadn’t really thought of myself in a Pan-African way, but coming to the U.S., people were asking me about Namibia, which I barely even knew was in Africa.”

She said her novel “Americanah” is about this process of “becoming Black” in a country where race is so embedded.

“If Blackness was not so fraught with negative stereotypes, I would not have felt the need to back away from it,” Adichie said. “There’s kind of this immigrant anxiety of wanting to do well and succeed, and if it means denying something that you feel isn’t the most positive, you do it anyway.”

With time, Adichie said she has come to embrace Blackness as an identity, but it is an identity that is only salient for her in America.

“When I walk into a room anywhere in America, I’m searching to see how many Black people are here … and I do things like say hello to every Black person I see,” she said. “In Nigeria, all of that is irrelevant, and instead I’m very much alert and alive to the nuances of my femaleness.”

When asked what advice she would give writers in the audience, she said she thinks it is important that writers read. She recommended they read poetry, and rather than viewing it as a puzzle and trying to figure out what it means, she said they should read it to “let languages flow through [their] body.”

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