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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer. Her most famous works are Purple Hibiscus (2003) which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2005, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) which won the Orange Prize in 2007 and Americanah (2013).  

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer. Her most famous works are Purple Hibiscus (2003) which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2005, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) which won the Orange Prize in 2007 and Americanah (2013).

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: biography

Adichie was born on 15th September 1977, in Enugu State, Nigeria. It is no surprise that education and high achievement were important to Adichie. She was raised on the campus of the University of Nigeria. Her father, James Nwoye Adichie, was a professor of statistics. Her mother, Grace Ifeoma, was the university's first female registrar.

Adichie completed a year of Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Nigeria. At the age of 19, she left for the United States to pursue her education in a different direction, earning a number of degrees:

  1. Communications and Political Science - Eastern Connecticut State University

  2. Masters in Creative Writing - John Hopkins University

  3. Master of Arts in African Studies - Yale University

The influence of Adichie's studies can be seen in her work with protagonists such as Kambili in Purple Hibiscus and Ifemelu in Americanah who are female characters that value their education. Parallels can also be drawn between Aunt Ifeoma in Purple Hibiscus and Adicihie's mother who shares the maiden name Ifeoma and also worked at a university. As such, Adichie's work has many autobiographical aspects.

Another aspect of Adichie's life that finds itself in her work is her Nigerian heritage and life in the United States. Living in both Nigeria and the United States, Adichie's experiences as a black woman have made her an intersectional feminist.

Intersectionality is a term which was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It deals with the overlap of factors like race, sexual orientation and socio-economic background. Intersectionality explores the ways in which the interconnection of those factors affects how a person is discriminated in society.

Intersectional feminism is a branch of feminism that takes into account intersectionality and effects of prejudiced social and political factors in the discrimination against women.

In particular, Adichie's book Americanah discusses the intersection of race and gender discrimination through the eyes of protagonist Ifemelu, who also lives in the US and Nigeria.

In March 2017, Adichie published Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Originating as an email to a friend (Ijeawele), this book draws on Adichie's heritage as a Nigerian woman and discusses how to raise a feminist daughter in Nigeria. This book shows how integral Adichie's identity is to her work.

Adichie's experience of the political landscape in Nigeria also influences her work. Until 1960, Nigeria was a colony ruled by the British Empire. In the following years from 1966-1999 (during which Adichie was born and spent the first 22 years of her life) Nigeria was ruled by a series of military dictatorships, led by General Yakubu Gowon, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalam Abubakar successively.

Although specific military dictators are unnamed, these military dictatorships provide the backdrop for both Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, where Adichie explores the effects of colonialism in Nigeria.

Adichie is inspired by the African authors who came before her and cites Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) as an inspiration for the representation of African culture within her work. Another influence is Buchi Emecheta, of whom she said ‘[I am] able to speak because you first spoke1’.

Adichie married Ivara Esege in 2009, with whom she has one daughter and leads a private family life.

Following the death of her father in 2020, Adichie's most recent work Notes On Grief (2021) was published to critical acclaim from Kirkus Reviews.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: books

Let's take a look at three of Adichie's major works as a novelist - the books Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

Purple Hibiscus (2003)

Purple Hibiscus (2003) is a coming-of-age novel that discusses themes of freedom and family. It takes place years after the Nigerian Civil War, in postcolonial Nigeria in the 1980’s.

...Defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom... A freedom to be, to do.

(Chapter 1)

The quote above introduces the main theme of the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) and explains the symbolism of the flower: freedom.

The story of Purple Hibiscus follows the beginning of Kambili’s transition from childhood to adulthood, when her father sends her along with her brother Jaja to live with their Aunt Ifeoma when a military coup occurs and their safety is threatened. Here, the siblings realise their upbringing has been marred by religious fanaticism, violence and control. Under Aunt Ifeoma’s roof, they are able to step into their individuality and independence.

Adichie discusses the effects of colonialism on religion, culture, self-expression and family life. Catholicism was introduced to Nigeria during colonial rule and in Purple Hibiscus, Papa thinks it is at odds with his traditional Igbo culture. Catholicism as a symbol of colonialism is used as a tool to curb self-expression in Papa's household.

Papa doesn't allow his family to speak Igbo in church.

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) is a realist historical novel that discusses themes of civil unrest, romance and colonialism.

...She taught them about the Biafran flag... red was the blood of the [Igbo people] massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.

(Chapter 13)

The quote above introduces the main theme of the novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) which is the civil unrest during the Biafran war.

Set during the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, also known as the Biafran War, the story follows three protagonist: Ugwu, Odenigbo and Olanna. Adichie discusses the effects of war on the everyday citizen. Odenigbo and Olanna are of a higher social class than Ugwu, who is a houseboy and yet all three characters face moral dilemmas and life-threatening situations.

Odenigbo, Olanna and Ugwu are forced to flee their town and they struggle as refugees.

The Biafran War refers to the Nigerian Civil War that started in 1967. Following the end of the British colonial rule, Nigeria entered a period of civil unrest. Tribalism wars occurred between the Igbo and the Hausa people of Nigeria. The word Biafra refers to the republican state formed by the Igbo people before the war, following the massacres of Igbo people after the end of colonial rule.

How does Chimamanda's identity as an Igbo Nigerian influence her portrayal of the Biafran War?

Americanah (2013)

Americanah (2013) is a romance novel that explores what it means to be black in the West for African natives.

I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.

(Chapter 11)

The quote above introduces the identity struggle felt by Ifemelu which drives most of the plot in Americanah. The concept of immigrants as Other is also introduced here as Ifemelu passes on the advice given to her to another Nigerian away from home.

The 'Other' is a sociological concept. It establishes a norm which the majority subscribe to. The minority who do not subscribe to the norm are the termed the 'Other'. The 'Other' is seen as subordinate and excluded from the majority.

Examples of Othered communities are those in racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ and women.

In the context of Americanah, Ifemelu and Obinze's Nigerian immigrant identity makes them Other to the Western norm, something they are very aware of.

The story follows protagonist Ifemelu and her childhood sweetheart Obinze as they leave Nigeria in their youth in search of a better life. Ifemelu heads to the United States and Obinze leaves for the UK. When they meet again fifteen years later, their spark for each other rekindles. The return to Nigeria is euphoric and nostalgic for both Obinze and Ifemelu. Their experience of displacement and not belonging in America and the UK heightens the joy they feel when they return to Nigeria and the hope that they would no longer be Othered.

However, they have both changed during their time abroad. Ifemelu has become more American when it comes to her political views, lifestyle and way of expression. In Nigeria, people can't accept her completely. Ifemelu is called 'Americanah' (hence the title of the novel) which makes her feel Othered once again.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: themes

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores a lot of sociological issues in her work: race, feminism and Nigerian politics are the three main themes that she explores in her writing.

Race

I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.

-Americanah (2013)

For Adichie, her racial identity has been a major factor in her life and so it is no surprise that race plays a large part in her work.

In Americanah, Auntie Uju, a respected doctor in Nigeria, has a hard time practicing her profession in America. Patients don't want her as their doctor because of her skin colour.

As part of the modern-day African diaspora, Adichie has a dual nationality as a Nigerian and an American.

African diaspora refers to a group of Africans living in countries other than their native country. The term is often used to describe Africans who have relocated to countries in the West. Members of the African diaspora experience dual ethnic identity as their experiences in their homeland give way to new experiences in their new country of residence. Reasons for relocation as part of the African diaspora vary but a common motivation is the search for a better life with opportunities often unavailable in their native country.

In her novels, Adichie explores race both in terms of tribalism between the Igbo and the Hausa with the Biafran War in Half of a Yellow Sun, and also in terms of the experience of the African diaspora in Americanah. There is often a romanticisation of her motherland Nigeria and a longing for home. This is because Adichie's characters are autobiographical; in discussing their longing for home, she reflects her own feelings.

Feminism

Feminism is an important topic for Adichie and aside from her discussion of intersectional feminism in Americanah, Adichie also explores feminism in her lesser-known collection of short stories called The Thing Around Your Neck (2009). The short story 'The Headstrong Historian' is much like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, but it provides an alternative perspective from a feminine point of view instead of a masculine one.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a novel that portrays life within the Igbo tribe in Nigeria, before the country was colonised. It also details the 19th century invasion that lead to colonisation. The main character is Onkonkwo, a well respected man in his village.

The main character, Nwamgba, offers an image of strength, much like Onkonkwo in Things Fall Apart. While Onkonkwo's strength is rooted in traditional displays of masculinity (aggression and violence, even towards his own family for the sake of maintaining the respect of the community), Nwamgba's strength leans more into traditional ideas of femininity.

Even though Nwamgba accepts the cultural expectations of women, Adichie uses her character to display strength. In this way, both Achebe's Onkonkwo and Adichie's Nwamgba are protagonists who portray the strength of the Igbo people in the face of imperialism. Adichie's portrayal of Nwamgba as a strong female character provides a feminist retelling of Nigerian history.

In her TEDx talk 'The Danger of a Single Story' (2009), Adichie speaks about the importance of many perspectives in telling a story and so her work often provides the female perspective to an otherwise male narrative. This is especially important in Adichie's work, which though not factual, touches on topics within Nigerian history.

While the characters in her stories may not have the same power as their male counterparts, women in a wider context are given power in having their story heard/told. Adichie says 'the single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story’.2 This belief also explains her characteristic storytelling style which employs parallel narratives.

A parallel narrative is a style of storytelling that follows numerous plots which are tied together by a shared event. Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun is an example of a parallel narrative as it follow the lives of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard. The shared event that ties their lives together is the Biafran War.

Nigerian politics

Nigerian politics are a constant theme in Adichie's work due to her formative years spent in Nigeria's (then) tense political climate. In her short story The Headstrong Historian, we catch a glimpse of her motivations in discussing the political history of Nigeria. A character named Grace becomes a lecturer who teaches Igbo history, after learning that a Western-educated lecturer has left the school in protest to African history being added to the syllabus.

Adichie writes to educate new generations on Nigerian political history and to make sure that history is not erased. Her fiction makes Nigerian politics accessible to people and helps the reader understand the experience of those affected by it.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: quotes

Let's take a look at some quotes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's most famous work that succinctly summarise her views.

The educated ones leave, the ones with the potential to right the wrongs. They leave the weak behind. The tyrants continue to reign because the weak cannot resist. Do you not see that it is a cycle? Who will break that cycle? - Purple Hibiscus

This quote is reflective of Adichie's view on Nigerian politics and the importance of the African diaspora's continued involvement in the social and political matters of their native countries. It also reflects her personal choice to live between the US and her native country Nigeria.

You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?..

Your life belongs to you and you alone. - Half of a Yellow Sun

This quote is reflective of Adichie's feminist views. Adichie believes in the empowerment of women. She is a self-described 'feminist: [a] person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes' (We Should All Be Feminists).

The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. - Americanah

This quote is reflective of Adichie's views on the importance of racial identity. Race is a factor that is inextricable from one's identity. Here, Ifemelu's character reflects on her relationship with her white lover Curt. Even though he is heavily involved in racial discourse, Ifemelu is still aware of the differences that exist between them because of their respective races. These differences do not disappear, even in love.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: facts

Did you know these interesting facts about Adichie?

  • Adichie famously delivered a TEDx talk titled ‘We Should All be Feminists’ (2012) which shared her views on the impact of sexism on modern society. It was later published as a book in 2014.
  • Adichie has changed her views on religion and spirituality several times. At one point, she identified as agnostic but she has since reclaimed her Catholic faith.
  • In addition to her three university degrees. Adichie has also received six other honorary degrees for her work as a writer and a feminist.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Key Takeaways

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer who writes fiction inspired by her life in Nigeria and in the United States.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on 15th September 1977, in Enugu State, Nigeria. Her parents were well educated, her father was a professor of statistics and her mother was a university registrar.
  • In her work, Adichie discusses topics of race, Nigerian politics and feminism.
  • Adichie's most famous works are Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Americanah (2013).
  • Adichie also published a collection of short stories called The Thing Around Your Neck.

1) 'Celebrating Buchi Emecheta', Goldsmiths Library Blog. 2019.

2) Chimamanda Adichie, 'The Danger of a Single Story,' TED video. 2009.

Frequently Asked Questions about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer who writes fiction inspired by her life in Nigeria and in the Unites States. Her work attracts a new generation of readers to African literature in the modern age. She is a well renowned speaker and feminist who has delivered many TEDx talks. 

Chimamanda Adichie is known for writing African literature about her home country Nigeria. Her most famous works are Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) 

and Americanah (2013).

Chimamanda Adichie is a feminist. She delivered a TEDx talk titled 'We Should All be Feminists' (2012), which was later published as a book in 2014. Her book Americanah (2013) can be seen as a feminist work as it discusses the intersection of gender discrimination with that of race through the eyes of its main character, Ifemelu. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie lives in both Nigeria and the United States. She divides her time between the two countries.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is important because she brings a feminist perspective to Nigerian post-colonial literature. Her work connects with a younger audience and teaches a new generation Nigerian history.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which subject did  Adichie study a degree in for a year in Nigeria before leaving for the US?

How many years of her life did Adichie spend living in Nigeria until she moved to the US?

Who is Adichie's main literary influence (hint: they wrote Things Fall Apart)?

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