Writing

9 Things We Learned From the 'One Book, One New York' Conversation With Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Some of the lessons we learned from the One Book, One New York Conversation at NYPL.

NEW YORK CITY — On June 5th, The New York Public Library and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment celebrated their One Book, One New York initiative with a conversation between Buzzfeed Books Editor Isaac Fitzgerald and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie’s best- selling book Americanah was selected as this year’s winner last February.


Below are 9 things we learned from their conversation about Americanah. 

There’s a reason why Ifemelu's character is so ‘difficult’

Adichie didn’t want her protagonist to be easily likeable, she wanted her to be unapologetic and sharp in her observations of America, constantly pushing back on the idea of the grateful immigrant that Americans love to champion.

“There’s something petulantly feminist in my decision to make her who she is [...] I used her as a tool because it’s easier to see things about a country when you’re not really from that country,” she says.

Aunty Uju’s character embodies the difficulties of the immigrant experience

In Americanah, one of Aunty Uju’s main qualms is treading the difficult line between assimilating into the culture she immigrated in and simultaneously retaining her cultural identity. Indeed, her move to America has metamorphosed her from an independent woman with a strong sense of self to a woman rattled by uncertainty. An experience many immigrants can attest to.

“A lot of immigrant go through that, you want to succeed in the new country. The things you find precious you want to hold on to. Sometimes you have to give up some of those things in order to succeed in the new country, it becomes this struggle,” Adichie says.

[livestream https://livestream.com/accounts/7711185/events/7343440/videos/157629987/player?width=640&height=360&enableInfo=true&defaultDrawer=&autoPlay=true&mute=false expand=1]

Ifemelu wouldn't have had a party after Trump’s victory, but she wouldn’t dismiss him as un-American

One thing Adichie, a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter wants to emphasize is that her protagonist would think that Trump is in fact genuinely American.

“I don’t think Ifemelu would buy into the sort of leftist idea that somehow this is not us. I think this clear-eyed honesty is important because in some ways to insist that this is such an aberration is to not be honest about it and not to think about why it happened,” she says.

Many of the views Ifemelu expresses — especially those on race — are Adichie’s.

Though Chimamanda is quick to point out that the character is not modelled after her—“her life is much more exciting than mine,” she jokes. In the book, Ifemelu voices a lot of the opinions she upholds on race. As a student in the US, Adichie discovered the concept of race and she wanted her protagonist to have that ‘HA!’ moment.

Ifemelu wasn’t supposed to move-in with Blaine

Like many writers in the process of developing her main characters, Adichie’s took up a life of their own. Initially, Ifemelu wasn’t supposed to move-in with the African-American professor, but somewhere in the process of developing the book, her character decided otherwise.

Adichie might continue Ifemelu’s blog.

Adichie got a taste for blogging thanks to her character Ifemelu’s job in Americanah and is considering for Ifemelu’s blog to take on a life of its own. We’ll be looking forward to that!

Adichie grew up reading romance novels but didn’t like their portrayal of women

The likes of Mills & Boon (it’s a Nigerian thing), but she couldn’t help but think that something was off about them. In the books she read, everyday life was portrayed as a fairytale, their protagonists thoughts were removed from the mundane concerns of getting paid, being stressed at work..etc.. Furthermore, she thought those books blatantly lacked any female agency. In Americanah, she wanted to create a more complex and real version of love, one that is messy and delves into female agency and desire.

In Americanah, Adichie was adamant about demystifying depression

It’s still taboo to talk about mental health issues in African and African-American communities and through her book, Adichie wanted to tackle some of the stigma associated with mental health. Adichie confesses to struggling with depression, it was thus important for her to write about the familiar feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness that at times washes over her.

“I think it is important to be honest about what it means to be human, that we are happy and we love but also we go through dark times. No one’s happy all the time,” she says.

Love isn’t about finding the one

Unsurprisingly, Adichie is against the idea of “the one.” She finds the notion that loves is supposed to complete you, erroneous. Instead, she believes that love should complement you.

“There’s an idea in the culture of finding the one, in which every relationship is a search for the one and I find it worrying because it means that you cannot be in a relationship and enjoy it for what it is. The one should be thrown out of the window, are men obsessed with the one? She says.

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Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.



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