Interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Groundnuts and Bananas: A Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In your article, “Blinded by God’s Business”, you argue that, in Nigeria, literature by Nigerians is passed over in favour of trade fiction from abroad, or, more often, for religious and business texts. To what do you attribute this focus on God’s-gonna-give-me-money texts? Are there any signs of a literary culture in Nigeria that goes against this trend? What does it mean for you that your works are, for now, more widely read abroad than at home?
This phenomenon of home-grown literature being passed over in favour of trade fiction from abroad is not limited to Nigeria. It is the same in many African countries. We do not have the financial power to publish and market our own books as literature or as entertainment, and somehow, in much the same way that we prefer imported parboiled rice to Nigerian rice, our own books don’t have the gloss that the Archer and Ludlum books do. I have had many Nigerians tell me, proudly, that they do not read Nigerian novels and often this is said in a way to make me feel grateful that they are willing to give my book a chance.
I AM more widely read abroad, but it is important to consider the practical factors such as how many and what kind of books are available, where they are available, the reading population etc. It’s much easier for an American to go to amazon.com or walk into one of the ubiquitous bookstores than it is for a Nigerian to find a bookstore that has much besides books like Breaking Your Spiritual Bond. Of course, other factors like how many people actually read play a role. There are many educated people who can spell and who have degrees but who do not read. That said, I think Purple Hibiscus has been remarkably widely-read in Nigeria. I am pleased about how many Nigerians have read it and this is because I am lucky to have a publisher, Muhtar Bakare of Farafina, who is courageous and idealistic and wonderfully crazy enough to want to do publishing right in a country like ours. I am pleased, too, by how Nigerians have engaged with, and responded to, the book; this, for me, is proof that there are many people who take literature seriously.
I think that we Africans sometimes become a little too defensive about being read abroad. Many non-African writers take pride in being read outside of their countries (and continents) and it seems to me that this is a luxury that we do not allow ourselves. We are burdened with the guilt complex, with the notion of authenticity; the assumption seems to be that if you are well-received outside of Africa, you have somehow played the tune that will please white foreigners alone. I don’t at all believe that. I find it to be a very limiting view of literature. I want to be read in Nigeria. And I want to be read in the rest of the world. Purple Hibiscus has so far been translated in ten countries and it is something I feel grateful for and proud of. I recently saw the Hebrew edition and, looking at the elegant characters that I will never be able to read, I thought of all the people who will hopefully read it in Israel and I felt something delusionally, fantastically life-affirming. That literature can connect the world, that literature can change a slice of the world.
terms of the mega churches, what your character Kambili calls “mushroom
Pentecostal” churches, that have sprouted up all over Nigeria, where do
you think that comes from? What is it that makes Nigerians so happy
about God and so serious about his impact on their daily lives,
especially their prosperity?
I’m always wary of omniscient answers about issues like where these
What do I think makes Nigerians so ostensibly happy about God? Fear. Of
Olu Oguibe describes in his article, “Lessons From the Killing
I don’t consider myself one of Biafra’s children because I
Much has been said about the apocalyptic nature of Lagos. Some folks
I love Nigeria because it is what made me who I am. The more I
You said in an interview that you advise writing as if your parents
I don’t necessarily avoid writing what is polite and
There is an older generation of well-decorated Nigerian writers that
I respect the older generation and Chinua Achebe remains the most
Nigerians all over the world have tales of being mistreated at
On tour in Australia, a radio interviewer said to me, with a
My Nigerian-ness is my green, much-peered-at passport, my
|This interview was conducted via email in September 2005. The texts referred to are the following:
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, “Blinded by God’s Business.” Guardian (February 12, 2005).
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Purple Hibiscus. (London: 4th Estate, 2005).
- Oguibe, Olu, “Lessons from the Killing Fields.” Transition, no. 77 (1998), 86-99.