Photo via Isioma's Style Report
Image via Isioma’s Style Report

Happy October, my fellow Germs! I hope your month is going well and is filled with spooks and treats (but mostly treats). October’s “Belle Lettres” is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is a nonfiction, short story writer and an author of novels such as Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

Adichie was born on September 15, 1977, in Enugu, Nigeria, and she is the fifth of six children. Adichie’s father, James Nwoye Adichie, was the first professor of statistics at University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and went on to become their Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Her mother, Grace Ifeoma, was the University’s first female registrar. Adichie studied medicine for a year and a half at the University of Nigeria, and during this time, she edited the school’s magazine, The Compass. At 19, Adichie left for the United States on a scholarship to Drexel University to study communications. She attended Eastern Connecticut State University and graduated summa cum laude in 2001 with a degree in communications and political science. She later received her master’s in creative writing at John Hopkins University in Baltimore.

While working on her studies, Adichie wrote her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was published in October 2003. Purple Hibiscus parallels the growing pains of the novel’s 15-year-old protagonist, Kambili, and Nigeria, which is going through a coup after gaining independence. Kambili lives with her brother, Jaja, and their parents, Beatrice and Eugene. Eugene is an active champion of civil rights and a voice against the military’s behavior through the newspaper he publishes. He is also a religious zealot who abuses Beatrice and subjects his children to punishments based on his religious obsessions. Kambili and Jaja experience a freedom to speak their minds when they spend time with their Aunty Ifeoma, who teaches at the University of Nigeria.

At the novel’s end, Kambili finds her place in early adulthood while living through the difficulties of seeing her mom deteriorate psychologically and of Jaja being released from prison. Purple HIbiscus was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004, and it was awarded the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book in 2005. Purple Hibiscus helped Adichie gain recognition as a prominent voice amongst African writers.

Adichie’s second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, was published in 2006. The Nigerian Civil War — also known as the Biafran War — is the novel’s focus, and the story is told through the perspective of the protagonists Olanna, Ugwu, and Richard. Olanna and her twin sister, Kainene, fall for men who seem to be at different ends of the spectrum: Odenigho, a professor at a provincial university and Pan-Africanist; and Richard, an Englishman who finds himself joining the Biafran cause during the war. Like Purple Hibiscus, the eventual collapse of the environment mirrors the internal breakdown of the characters’ lives.

Half of a Yellow Sun received the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007, and it made the New York Times’ “100 Most Notable Books of the Year.” Fellow Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, whom Adichie was influenced by, said of her, “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.” In 2013, Half of a Yellow Sun was adapted into a film starring Chiwetel Ejofar and Thandie Newton.

In 2009, Adichie released a collection of short stories called The Thing Around Your Neck, and she gave a TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story.” In 2012, Adichie gave her TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” in which she focused on the importance of feminism and why allowing gender roles to shape who we are can be problematic. Adichie became a featured artist on Beyoncé’s 2013 single “****Flawless” when part of her TED Talk speech on feminism was included in the song.

In 2013, Adichie released her third novel, Americanah, which Adichie essentially calls a love story. Ifemelu goes to the US to attend university while her boyfriend, Obinze, goes to London when his Visa to enter the US is denied. Years later, Obinze becomes wealthy through property development, and Ifemelu runs a well-known blog called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks.” While Americanah comments on the black experience in three different continents (the Americas, Europe, and Africa), it also explores the feelings of dislocation and isolation. Americanah was selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the “10 Best Books of 2013,” and it won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Adichie intertwines themes of identity, home, immigration, isolation, and love through personal and shared experiences. Adichie is a storyteller who weaves the stories of her parents and childhood and creates a narrative that is relatable. Adichie’s writings reminds us that it is only through learning about our pasts that we are able to understand our present and create a better future version of ourselves.

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