By Jessica Onah
“When I hear from people, when people say to me thanks for telling the story of my history, that means a lot to me”- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The exceptional award-winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has three publicly-praised novels to be proud of – her second, Half Of a Yellow Sun won the Orange prize for fiction in 2007. Her first book Purple Hibiscus and most recent book Americanah have also been nominated for awards.
Being circulated across social media platforms is her TEDxEuston 2012 talk on ‘Feminism’ which has over 360,000 views on You Tube and was featured on singing sensation Beyonce Knowles’ latest album.
I met with Chimamanda at her London Hotel where she stayed during her visit for the London Premier of the film Half Of a Yellow Sun. With the author’s time divided between the US and Lagos, I was lucky to catch her during her short stay in London.
As I entered the guest lounge where the interview was scheduled to take place, Chimamanda was seated and quite relaxed, talking away with another Journalist. When someone is bombarded with interviews consecutively over a period time you would think that they should become restless and maybe a bit uneasy, however, she remained attentive and surprisingly polite.
I first noticed her gentle and serene mannerism as well as her natural beauty which oozed out from inside out. She wore a flattering, formal, black two-piece that shimmered in the light.
I settled the uneasiness between us, two strangers, by introducing myself and stating that we were both from the same place Enugu, Nigeria, which was the only common ground I could think of at that moment to allow her feel ‘at home’ with me.
As I squeezed for answers during the interview, Chimamanda happily chatted away with me and even told me that I should ‘Greet Aunty’ for her, Aunty being my mum who insisted I invited Chimamanda (Who she had never met) round for a delicious Nigerian meal.
Read excerpts from the Interview below.
What is your biggest achievement?
I really don’t know, I don’t think that I think in those terms because things mean different things. So it’s really hard to say, ‘I think this is the biggest thing I’ve done’.
Was there a book you wrote that you believed was a greater achievement than the others?
They meant different things, ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ has the most emotional significance for me. I love ‘Purple Hibiscus’, I think of it as my first baby but it did not make me cry, ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ did. ‘Americanah’ I love, it made me laugh. ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ took a lot from me emotionally.
Do you think the film did your book justice?
I think it did. I think it was quite faithful to the book while also being its own thing. You can’t cram a novel into a two-hour film. Certainly I recognised my book in the film but also saw the film as a film. I was very moved at the end of it even though I wrote the book.
Would there be anything you would change in the film based on the interpretation of the book?
No, I don’t know that I could make a good film, I can judge a film , I can tell you when a film is good but, I couldn’t tell you how to make one. I would not change anything.
Both the book and the film take us on educational journey surrounding some of the circumstances of the Nigerian civil. Do you think there has been and is still enough education on the Nigerian civil war in this day and age?
There are many many stories that have not been told. It’s changing a bit I think and ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ really contributed to that. We don’t even have any memorials to that period, there is a war museum, I’ve been there once its okay but, it should be much better and there are so many stories that have not been told.
What injustices do you believe happened during the War?
‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ is about injustice, the war itself was an injustice. There are some people who died who should have not died. The things that led to the war were massive injustices, the massacres of the people in the north that the federal government did not address, I mean there are many.
Do you think that the impact of the war is still in effect today?
Yes. We have people who are still active in the Biafra movement. There are people who committed crimes who are still public figures in Nigeria.
Also, just basic things like, the way we were obsessed in Nigeria with state creations. The origin of state creation is really that Gowon wanted to script the loyalty of the eastern regions, so he created states. If that hadn’t happened we probably wouldn’t have the craziness of everyday we want to create a new state.The idea of what we call the geopolitics of Nigeria – so we say we need a president from the north…that very much is rooted in what led to the Biafra war.
Even the way land belonged to the Nigerian government was also something that happened after the war. It was a way of disenfranchising people. So the war ends and you say actually nobody owns land and the land belongs to the state government.
There are also questions we don’t ask in Nigeria about why things are the way they are. Young people should ask questions, we need to know how did this happen? how did we get here? what was this like 25 years or 50 years ago?
You studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half, was that parental influence or did you actually want to do it?
I didn’t want to do it but I felt I should, so It wasn’t so much parental pressure, nobody said to me you must. I did very well in school and when you do very well in school it is almost like the air you breathe tells you that you have to go and study medicine and so I just did.
I never wanted to, the same way I never really wanted to be in what was called the science class, I wanted literature and history. After i took exams in class 3 my teachers were like this is the best results in the history of the school, of course your going to be a doctor. So immediately I’m in the science class and taking all of these courses I just don’t care about , the thing is you’re doing well but you’re not enjoying it but, I was lucky that I had parents who when I said to them I don’t want to do this anymore, they said OK. Usually in Nigeria particularly, you get into medical school and you’re high on the merit list and then you wake up and say you want to stop, that does not happen.
I think it was the best thing I did.
Do you think African parents have accepted the creative industry as a valid career option?
It’s changing but not really, it’s not as bad as it was before when if you said you wanted to do something creative people would look at you like you’re mad.
People will often say only 1 out of 2000 will make something of it so why don’t you just play safe and become the doctor, but I think it’s changing.
What legacy do you want to leave?
That’s the kind of question you ask someone whose about to die (she laughs). Do you know I don’t know.
I can tell you what I hear that means something to me. When I hear from people, when people say to me, thanks for telling the story of my history, that means a lot to me. When I hear from young women who say thank you for making me feel like I don’t have to conform, that makes me happy, so if it means that I am remembered for that (smiles).
I like to think that telling my truth, living my truth is important and if it inspires others (smiles).
For many of us who are Nigerians, Africans, we grew up thinking the world is not about us. We grew up thinking we have to aspire to be something else and I don’t think that’s true. If you’re able to tell stories that is not truly you, it will lack a certain sense of authenticity. No one can be as good as you at being you.
I heard through the grapevine that Americanah is being turned into a film, is this true?
With Lupita Nyongo featuring?
(She smiles and then chuckles quietly and briefly)
Half of a yellow Sun Is currently showing in Cinemas around the world including London and the US.