Well said, indeed.
How will history depict the African woman?*
That is the question Chimamanda Adichie explored as she spoke at the Royal African Society’s first annual literary festival in London. Africa’s leading literary voice and one of Forbes’ Youngest Power Women in Africa, Adichie reflected on five momentous decades of an African literary culture, saying, “Africans must speak for themselves… especially women.”
Above all, it was a heartfelt tribute to Africa’s women writers. Speaking on the legacy and “complex femaleness” of the authors, Adichie declared, “African women writers’ story-telling nurtured mine.” The lecture was also a chance to get intimate with the Purple Hibiscus author as she discussed details of her childhood. To Ike Anya, who sat next to her, Adichie was the “small girl next door” whose imagination was “shrouded in wonder.” As Anya explains, “When the Achebes moved out, the Adichies moved in,” revealing Nsukka’s prestigious line of homegrown writers.
An issue particularly close to the author’s heart is the role of women and marriage in African societies. Having decided to call herself a “feminist,” Adichie shared her amusement that a Nigerian reporter once told her, “Feminists are unhappy women who cannot find a husband.” Arguing, “We should not be raising our daughters to aspire to marriage,” Adichie urged her audience to “make space” in society for women who do not wish to get married. She added, “We need to teach our girls to conquer the world [instead].” Above all, Adichie hoped that history would remember that African women could love and be loved.
One of the main reasons why her readers are drawn to Half of a Yellow Sun is its ability to humanise people in deeply troubling circumstances. Even amidst the horrors of the Biafran War, Adichie’s characters were allowed to be passionately in love; from Odenigbo to Ugwu, master to houseboy, there was love at every level of the story.
In societies where sex is rarely discussed and in a literary culture where love and romance are reserved for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed heroine (and “tall, dark and handsome”) means something very different to what a much younger Adichie had imagined, Adichie enforced what she called “the democratisation of sex.” She insisted, “The [African] woman is more than merely an object but [an individual] with her own desires.”
(*this whole ‘Africa as a monolith’ can often be confusing, even when tackling issues were many of us across the continent share the same experiences)