Critically acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has delivered notable TED talks — including one sampled by Beyoncé — spoke about issues of race, gender and the creative writing process with African Studies Director Scott Taylor in Gaston Hall on Friday.
The event was sponsored by the African Society, the African Studies Program, English department, Lecture Fund, Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Justice, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Offices of the President and Provost.
University President John J. DeGioia gave a brief introduction to the award-winning writer’s many works, the most recent of which, “Americanah,” was released last year. Adichie was also recognized for her outspoken advocacy for gender equality.
During her talk, Adichie criticized the label of “African literature” and its specific accompanying accolades.
“To be prescriptive is to constrain. I think the problem arises that whoever uses the label has an ideal of what an African writer should be and should write about,” she said. “These labels have less to do with literary merit and art. They’re political considerations.”
Adichie has published three novels and has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction.
Adichie went on to warn aspiring writers against considering the potential audience of the work.
“When you consider who’s going to be reading your work, you censor yourself,” she said. “Looking at my career in particular, if I had been thinking about audience and marketing, I probably wouldn’t have done what I’ve done.”
Adichie also spoke about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and criticized the American media’s coverage of it.
“It just goes back to this common idea that Africa is a place where people apply a different kind of logic,” Adichie said. “If Ebola was happening somewhere other than Africa, I don’t know if this level of hysteria would exist.”
A reception in Riggs Library followed the event.
During the reception, Adichie discussed misperceptions surrounding Western feminism.
“Feminism isn’t about saying that women shouldn’t be at home. It’s saying that women should have home as well as other choices that are equal and equally possible,” she explained. “It comes from a lack of par. If we have women who have degrees that they need and know they can get the job they’re qualified for, then they choose to stay at home, then there’s no pressure. Many women don’t have that choice.”
Zoe Gadegbeku (COL ’15), president of the African Society of Georgetown, said that she found Adichie’s comments on feminism to be very relevant.
“Her comments on feminism and the ways in which young girls are socialized to be subordinate to men especially struck a chord with me because she is so unafraid and unapologetic in asserting herself,” Gadegbeku said. “The idea of being unapologetic is a powerful one, in the sense that people should be brave in pursuing endeavors they are passionate about. I believe that’s especially important to us as college students who face intense pressure to pursue a very specific path to success.”
Ayo Aruleba (COL ’17) attended the event and praised Adichie for being down to earth.
“A simple line which she said a few times throughout the event was ‘I don’t know.’ This simple sentence gave the rest of what she said a great amount of credibility,” Aruleba said. “Oftentimes, speakers come to Gaston as experts in their fields with the answers to everything, but the fact that she acknowledged the gaps in her knowledge when asked some hard questions showed me how wise of a woman she was.”