Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has published three novels and a short story collection; she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008, and her latest novel, Americanah won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2013. Still, when Beyoncé quoted from Adichie’s TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” for her song “Flawless,” the author ascended to a new level of fame. In a wide-ranging profile written by Larissa MacFarquhar for The New Yorker, Adichie addresses the increased scrutiny of her interviews and public statements, dives deep into the sights, sounds, and places that have inspired her work, and considers her legacy.
When she talks about feminism or gay rights in Nigeria, she knows what she’s getting into, and she does it on purpose. But her celebrity is such that even an offhand remark can set off a fracas that she did not anticipate. A few years ago, when asked by a journalist to comment on the shortlist for the Caine Prize, an English award for African fiction, she said she had no interest in the topic, although one of the nominees, she said, was “one of my boys in my workshop.” Her antipathy to the Caine Prize was long-standing, due to her dislike of a former administrator of the prize, whom she had found sexist and patronizing, and whom she venomously fictionalized in her short story “Jumping Monkey Hill.”
as though God, having created him, had slapped him flat against a wall and smeared his features all over his face
Asked where she went instead to find the best African fiction, she said, “My mailbox,” where she received her workshop students’ stories. On Nigerian Twitter, all hell broke loose. “It doesn’t take much brain juice to realize from her interviews that Ms CNA’s ego can sink an island,” wrote Manny. “So the best African fiction is in Chimamanda Adichie’s inbox?” Abubakar Ibrahim, a novelist, wrote. “I hail thee, queen-god mother. Go fuck yourself, Chimamanda.”
Earlier this year, Chimamanda commented to a reporter in France, “Post-colonial theory? I don’t know what it means. I think it’s something that professors made up because they needed to get jobs.” Nigerian academics reacted with hurt and outrage. “That’s it!” Difficult Northerner wrote. “We need to put Chimamanda in rice. How can you shit on postcolonial theory while claiming not to know what it means. The same postcolonial theorists who assign your books & videos in classes.”
She is O.K. in principle with not being liked: she thinks that the desire to be liked is something that women need to get over. A male friend of hers told her that Ifemelu, the main character of “Americanah,” was Chimamanda without her warmth, and she bristled at this, even though she thought it might be true. Why the hell are you judging her like that? she thought. If Ifemelu were a male, would you expect and want warmth? All the same, it is painful to be attacked. “Ta-Nehisi Coates said to me once that what hurt him the most, becoming successful, was how much it was black intellectuals who seemed to be out for him, and I know what that’s like. I told him that there’s a circle of Nigerians who are resentful of my international success, and it’s very hurtful, because I want my people to wish me well.”