The importance of place

Chimamanda Adichie tells true, personal stories

By Marlena Chertock

Chimamanda Adichie explained the importance of place and truth in her writing at the Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series on Tuesday night at CSPAC. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

She tries to tell the Nigerian story, her Nigerian story, through fearless honesty.

Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer known for her realistic fiction and her TED talk about the danger of the single story, explained her inspiration for writing for about an hour Tuesday night as a part of the 2012-13 Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, offered by the College of Arts and Humanities. The CSPAC Gildenhorn Recital Hall was filled; tickets had sold out last week.

Adichie first read a short excerpt from one of her lesser-known works about her Uncle Mai and his death, which was published in the Financial Times.

She called her uncle “my link to our past.” A past that is connected through family, heritage and place.

Place is very important to Adichie. She said it’s important for writers of realistic fiction.

Adichie is exploring her Nigerian-ness by writing. She tells personal stories because they are the ones that matter most. “I think it’s the personal stories that help us understand the larger history,” she said.

Her personal story is inextricably tied to where she’s from. “I don’t think what I am, whatever that is, is unable to coexist with African-ness, whatever that may be,” she said.

She’s written about the Nigerian-Biafran War, her uncle, her family, and in several ways, herself. Her characters are all part of her, in some way or another. They come from observation. “I also think I sometimes slice myself off and give characters slices of myself,” she said.

Adichie is inspired by writers like Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. Faulkner wites about small Southern towns — a strong sense of place.

She’s trying to create a culture, by being a storyteller, where Nigerian women can be different and don’t have to follow gender stereotypes. “Gender is a problem because gender doesn’t look at the way we are, it prescribes for us who we should be,” she said.

During the question and answer section, one student cried in her expression of gratitude for Adichie’s words and stories. How can other young women make an impact on the world, she asked.

Adichie smiled. “Even though the world might tell you that you can’t reach out, you can make a difference,” she said. “I’m a black female; I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Adichie strives for truth. “In writing, what I want to be is honest,” she said. “I’m very willing to offend, very willing to alienate. I think truthful stories can have both good and bad.”

She would worry if everyone agreed with her.

Adichie talked about a collective denial in America. If you read contemporary American fiction you will never know America is at war, she said. And one thing she noticed is that Americans get upset about other Americans being killed in drone strikes. “Well, what about just people being killed in that way?” she said.

“What I want is truth,” she said. “I’m telling my own emotional truth.”

And she wants others to tell theirs as well. She urged several students who asked questions after her lecture to research and begin writing the stories they wish to read. “I want people to tell stories that are true,” Adichie said.

The final lecture in this series will be April 18 at 5:30 p.m.

To see tweets from tonight’s lecture, search #ARHUDLS on Twitter.