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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Biography: Inside The Life Of Nigerian Author

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction. In The Times Literary Supplement, she was described as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors succeeding in introducing a new generation of readers to African literature,” particularly in her second country, the United States.

Early Life and Education

Adichie was the fifth of six siblings. On September 15, 1977, she was born into an Igbo family in the Nigerian city of Enugu. She grew up in Nsukka, Enugu State’s university town. When she was a child, her father, James Nwoye Adichie (1932-2020), was a statistics professor at the University of Nigeria. Her mother was Grace Ifeoma, the university’s first female registrar from 1942 to 2021. Her paternal and maternal grandparents were among the family members who lost almost everything during the Nigerian Civil War. Her family’s ancestral home in the state of Anambra is Abba.

Adichie received multiple academic honors in the University of Nigeria Secondary School in Nsukka, where she completed her secondary education. She studied pharmacy and medicine at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half. During this period, she was the editor of The Compass, a journal run by the university’s Catholic medical students.

Adichie traveled to the United States from Nigeria at the age of 19 to study political science and communications at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She transferred to ECSU to be closer to her sister Uche, who worked as a doctor in Coventry, Connecticut. She received her bachelor’s degree from ECSU in 2001.

In 2003, Adichie received her master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. In 2008, she earned a Master of Arts in African Studies from Yale University.

Adichie has honorary degrees from 16 universities, including Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Edinburgh, Duke University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Catholic University of Louvain, where she will receive her 16th on April 28, 2022.

Adichie was a Hodder fellow at Princeton University during the 2005-2006 academic year. In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. For the academic year 2011-2012, she was awarded a fellowship from Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Career

Ngozi Adichie was first and principally affected by Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel “Things Fall Apart” when she was ten years old. Adichie was inspired by witnessing her own life reflected in the pages of the novel. She also mentioned Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta as an inspiration, writing on Emecheta’s death: “Emecheta Buchi.” We can now speak because you spoke first. I admire your bravery. Nodu na ndokwa, I admire your artwork. Adichie has also cited “The African Child by Camara Laye” and Margaret Busby’s 1992 anthology Daughters of Africa as important readings.

Adichie, writing as Amanda N. Adichie, published Decisions, a collection of poems, in 1997, and For Love of Biafra, a drama, in 1998. When Adichie was a senior in high school in Connecticut, she wrote the short story “My Mother, the Crazy African,” which tackles the challenges that might arise when a person is presented with two diametrically opposing cultures. On the one hand, traditional Nigerian society clearly defines gender roles, whereas in America, there is greater freedom for gender expression and fewer restrictions for young people. Because Ralindu was raised in Philadelphia while her parents were in Nigeria, she and her parents must overcome this challenge.

She was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 for her short story “You in America,” and her piece “That Harmattan Morning” was declared a joint winner of the 2002 BBC World Service Short Piece Awards. She received the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize in 2002-2003, as well as the PEN Centre Award in 2003. Her work has also appeared in Topic Magazine and Zoetrope: All-Story.

Purple Hibiscus, her debut novel, received widespread praise from critics and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2004. In 2004, it was also nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction. (2005).

Her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), is set before and during the Nigerian Civil War and is inspired by the flag of the ill-fated country of Biafra. Buchi Emecheta’s Destination Biafra, released in 1982, was essential for Adichie’s research while she was writing Half of a Yellow Sun. In 2007, Half of a Yellow Sun received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Half of a Yellow Sun, directed by Biyi Bandele and starring BAFTA and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and BAFTA winner Thandiwe Newton, was based on the same-name novel.

Adichie’s third book, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a collection of 12 short stories about men and women, parents and children, and America and Africa. In 2010, she was one of the authors featured in The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue. Adichie’s story “Ceiling” appeared in the 2011 anthology Best American Short Stories.

The investigation of a young Nigerian woman’s encounter with race in America in her third book, Americanah (2013), was named one of The New York Times’ “10 Best Books of 2013.” In April 2014, she was chosen as one of the 39 authors under 40 in the Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club project Africa39, which honored Port Harcourt as the UNESCO World Book Capital.

In a 2014 interview, Adichie noted, “Though I consider myself a storyteller, I wouldn’t object in the least if someone viewed me as a feminist author.” Because I have a very feminist outlook on the world, my work must reflect that. In 2015, she co-curated the PEN World Voices Festival. In March 2017, Americanah was chosen as the winner of the “One Book, One New York” program, which is part of a community reading campaign encouraging all city residents to read the same book.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the greatest honors for intellectuals in the United States, announced in April 2017 that Adichie had been elected as one of 228 new members to be admitted on October 7, 2017, into its 237th class. Adichie’s standalone short story Zikora, about sexism and being a single mother, was released in 2020. Half of a Yellow Sun was chosen by the general public as the best work of fiction to have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in its 25-year history in November 2020.

Notes on Grief, Adichie’s memoir on her father’s death, will be released in May 2021. It is based on the same-titled essay published in The New Yorker in September 2020. According to The Independent’s reviewer, “her words put a welcome, authentic voice to this most universal of emotions, which is also one of the most universally avoided.”

Personal Life

In 2009, Adichie married a Nigerian doctor, Ivara Esege. They share a daughter, who was born in 2016. Adichie divides her time between Nigeria and the United States, where she teaches writing courses.

Controversies

Religion

Adichie is a Catholic who was raised in a Catholic environment, although she believes that her beliefs, particularly those on feminism, sometimes contradict her religion. During a Georgetown University lecture in 2017, she claimed that religion “is not a women’s-friendly institution” and “has been used to justify oppressions based on the notion that women are not equal human beings.” She has called on Nigerian Muslim and Christian leaders to spread messages of peace and harmony. While raising her daughter in the Catholic faith, she has identified as culturally Catholic and previously as an atheist. As a guest at a recent Humboldt Forum, she revealed that she had returned to Catholicism.

Race

Adichie was raised in Nigeria and was not used to being recognised by the colour of her skin; this only started to happen when she moved to the US for college. Adichie had to deal with what it meant to be a person of colour in America as a black African living there. She had to navigate and learn about the concept of race. This is a topic she covers in her 2013 book, Americanah.

LGBT Rights Advocacy

Adichie is an African champion for LGBT rights. She was one of the Nigerian writers who criticized the ban against homosexuality when it was passed in 2014, calling it unconstitutional and “a weird priority for a country with so many actual problems.” She further claimed that because consensual gay behavior between adults is not a crime, the legislation is unjust because it criminalizes it. Binyavanga Wainaina, a gay Kenyan author, was also good friends with Adichie. Adichie wrote in her eulogy that she was having difficulty controlling her sobs when he died on May 21 in Nairobi from a stroke.

Since 2017, Adichie has faced several transphobic charges, initially for asserting that “my feeling is that trans women are trans women.” Adichie later clarified her remarks, stating, “Perhaps I should have emphasized that all women—trans women included—are women, cis women are women, and all women are women.” However, the word “cis” does not appear in my dictionary. Most individuals would probably not grasp it. Because my goal was not to elevate one over the other, using the terms “trans” and “cis” recognizes the distinction between women who transition and women who are born that way. I have and will continue to advocate for transgender people’s rights.

J. K. Rowling’s essay, “J. K. Rowling Writes on Her Reasons for Speaking Out on Sex and Gender Issues,” sparked “all the hubbub” in 2020, and Adichie chimed in, calling it “perfectly rational.” Adichie was accused of transphobia once more, this time by Nigerian novelist Akwaeke Emezi, a former pupil of Adichie’s writing workshop. In response to the outcry, Adichie criticized cancel culture, saying, “In certain ways, you aren’t permitted to develop intellectually and personally.” Furthermore, forgiveness is not an option. It appears to me that I am lacking in empathy.

Adichie also criticized cancel culture in an essay titled “It Is Obscene” published in June 2021, when she spoke with two unidentified writers who had taken her writing course and later criticized her on social media for remarks she made about transgender people. She called their “passionate performance of virtue that is well accomplished in the public realm of Twitter but not in the personal space of friendship” “obscene.”

Lectures

Adichie talked at TED in 2009 about “The Danger of a Single Story.” With almost 27 million views, it has ascended to the top of the list of the most-watched TED Talks of all time. On March 15, 2012, she delivered the Commonwealth Lecture “Connecting Cultures” in London’s Guildhall. Adichie discussed being a feminist in her TEDxEuston presentation “We Should All Be Feminists” in December 2012. It sparked a global feminist debate and was turned into a book in 2014, selling 750,000 copies in the United States alone. It gained popularity after American singer Beyoncé sampled it in her 2013 song “Flawless.”

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The Danger Of A Single Story

Adichie discussed the underrepresentation of many cultures in a TED talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story,” which was published in July 2009. She added that when she was a young girl, she used to read a lot of American and British books where the majority of the characters were of Caucasian descent. She argued throughout the speech that the underrepresentation of cultural diversity can be harmful. Adichie noted the value of many stories in various cultures and the need for representation as she closed her speech. Because individuals are multifaceted, she argues for a deeper knowledge of stories, claiming that by doing so, one misinterprets people, their origins, and their histories. Since 2009, she has revisited the topic when speaking to audiences, such as at the Hilton Humanitarian Symposium of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundationin 2019.

We Should All Be Feminists

More than five million people have seen Adichie’s TEDx lecture from 2012, “We Should All Be Feminists,” which she gave at TedXEuston in London. She discussed her thoughts on gender construction and sexuality as well as her experiences as an African feminist. According to Adichie, the issue with gender is that it determines who we are. And she added, “I’m enraged.” The way gender is structured today is a serious injustice. We ought to be furious. In addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I have a strong belief in people’s ability to change for the better. Historically, anger has been known to bring about constructive change. In an interview with BBC News on December 8, 2021, Adichie was asked about the duty of being a feminist icon. She said she preferred to define her responsibility for herself but was okay with using her platform to advocate for others. She also discussed women’s right to express rage since it inspires action.

Flawless Song

Beyoncé sampled parts of Adichie’s TEDx lecture for her song “Flawless” in December 2013. We Should All Be Feminists, a stand-alone book by Fourth Estate that contained an article based on the lecture, was released in 2014. “Anything that gets young people talking about feminism is a very good thing,” Adichie subsequently stated in an interview with NPR. In a follow-up interview with the Dutch daily De Volkskrant, she clarified the statement, saying, “Another thing I despised was that I read everywhere: now people know her, owing to Beyoncé, or: she must be extremely thankful.” That was disappointing to me. I reflected, “I am a writer, and have been for some time.” I refuse to participate in this act that is now reportedly expected of me: ‘Thanks to Beyoncé, my life will never be the same again.’ That’s why I didn’t speak about it much.

Adichie has made it clear that her brand of feminism is distinct from Beyoncé’s, especially when it comes to their divergent views on the place of men in women’s lives, saying: “Although I don’t like her style, I do find it interesting that she has started to speak out about political and social issues in recent years.” She presents a woman who has girl power, is in charge of her own fate, and does what she wants. That has my undivided attention. Adichie, however, has been vociferous in response to those who have questioned the singer’s feminist credentials, saying: “Whoever says they’re feminist is bloody feminist.”

Books

Year Title Publisher ISBN Notes
1997 Decisions Minerva Press (London) ISBN 9781861064226 Poetry
1998 For the love of Biafra Spectrum Books (Ibadan) ISBN 978978029032020 Play
2003 Purple Hibiscus 4th Estate (London) ISBN 9780007189885 Novel
2006 Half of a Yellow Sun 4th Estate (London) ISBN 9780007200283 Novel
2009 The Thing Around Your Neck 4th Estate (London) ISBN 9780007306213 Short story collection
2013 Americanah Alfred A. Knopf (New York) ISBN 9780307271082 Novel
2014 We Should All Be Feminists. 4th Estate (London) ISBN 9780008115272 An Essay (excerpt in New Daughters of Africa, ed. Margaret Busby, 2019).
2017 Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions 4th Estate (London) ISBN 9780008275709 Essay
2019 Sierra Leone, 1997. Black Ballon, an imprint of Catapult ISBN 9781936787791 The story in the book Eat Joy-Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, collected by Natalie Eve Garrett
2021 Notes on Grief 4th Estate (London) ISBN 9780593320808 Memoir

Short Fiction

Year Title First published
2013 “Checking Out” “Checking out”. The New Yorker. Vol. 89, no. 5. March 18, 2013. pp. 66–73.
2015 “Apollo” “Apollo”. The New Yorker. Vol. 91, no. 8. 13 April 2015. pp. 64–69.
2016 “The Arrangements: A Work of Fiction” “‘The Arrangements’: A Work of Short Fiction”. The New York Times Book Review, July 3, 2016.
2020 “Notes on Grief” “Notes on Grief”. The New Yorker, September 10, 2020.
2020 “Zikora” Amazon Original Stories

Awards and Nominations

Adichie is a well-decorated writer, and she has several awards and nominations to her name. Some of which are below.

  • 2022: Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal.
  • 2019: Kasseler Burgerpreis “Prism of Reason” Award
  • 2018: PEN Pinter Prize
  • 2017: Grand Prix de l’Hérone Madame Figaro (nonfiction) for Dear Ijeawele
  • 2015: Winner of the ‘Best of the Best’ of the second decade of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction) for Half of a Yellow Sun
  • 2015: Girls Write Now Awards Groundbreaker honoree
  • 2014: Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (shortlist)
  • 2013: National Book Critics Circle Award
  • 2013: Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction
  • 2011: ThisDay Award: ”New Champions for an Enduring Culture”
  • 2010: Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book)
  • 2010: Dayton Literary Peace Prize (US)
  • 2009: John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize
  • 2009: International Nonino Prize
  • 2008: British Book Awards: Author of the Year
  • 2008: MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant
  • 2007: PEN ‘Beyond Margins’ Award 2007, for Half of a Yellow Sun
  • 2007: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
  • 2007: British Book Awards, Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year
  • 2007: Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa Region, Best Book)
  • 2007: James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction)
  • 2007: Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction
  • 2006: National Book Critics’ Circle Award (USA)
  • 2005: Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book)
  • 2004: Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
  • 2004: John Llewelly-Rhys Memorial Prize
  • 2004: Orange Prize for Fiction
  • 2004: YALSA Best Book For Young Adults Award
  • 2003: O Henry Short Story Prize
  • 2002: BBC Short Story Competition
  • 2002: Caine Prize for African Writing
  • 2002: Commonwealth Short Story Competition
  • 2002: David Wong Award

Other Recognition

  • 2010 Listed among The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40”
  • 2013 Listed among The New York Times “Ten Best Books of 2013 for Africannah.”
  • 2013 Listed among the BBC’s “Top Ten Books of 2013”, for Americanah
  • 2013 Foreign Policy magazine “Top Global Thinkers of 2013”
  • 2013 Listed among the New African’s “100 Most Influential Africans 2013”
  • 2014 Listed among Africa39 project of 39 writers aged under 40
  • 2015 Listed among Time Magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People”
  • 2015 Commencement Speaker at Wellesley College
  • 2017 Commencement Speaker at Williams College
  • 2018 Class Day Speaker for Harvard University
  • 2019 Class Day Speaker for Yale University
  • Adichie was one of 15 women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue, guest-edited by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
  • Adichie was cited as one of the Top 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine in 2019.
  • Chimamanda was also elected in March 2017 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This made her the second Nigerian to be given such an honour, after Prof. Wole Soyinka. She was listed among the 40 honorary members from 19 countries.

Net Worth

Her net worth is currently unknown.

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