What we Learnt from Chimamanda Adichie’s PEN Festival closing lecture

Posted: May 21, 2015 in Arise and Shine, Da Grace Race, Dairy of a Freeman, Entertainment, Family, HMMMM, Metro, Naija Scene
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (CNA) talked about several things in her Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture, which closed the PEN World Voices festival in New York Sunday night.

She had sharp words for everyone and here I capture the poignant points.

• CNA declared that America had its own censorship. “There is a general tendency in the United States to define problems of censorship as essentially foreign problems,” Adichie said. She pointed out that Americans like to be “comfortable”. And she worried that the comfort has brought “dangerous silencing” into American public conversation. “The fear of causing offence, the fear of ruffling the careful layers of comfort, becomes a fetish,” Adichie said. As such, the goal of many public conversations in the United States “is not truth … [it] is comfort.”

• Without mentioning the personal ordeal surrounding the kidnapping and release of her father, she characterized Nigerian’s life as one where they expect “pain.”

• CNA identified social media as a contemporary “tool of silencing”. That the focus of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which was centered on the abducted girls in Chibok was censorship forcing Boko Haram to look just like the Taliban. “It is censorship to force a story to fit into something that already pre-exists.” She pointed out that Boko Haram were not targeting girls only, but opposed western education for both boys and girls.

• CNA said that breaking silence is not always easy. “To choose to write is to reject silence,” Adichie went on to say, “I have often been told that I cannot speak on certain issues because I am young, and female, or, to use the disparaging Nigerian speak, because I am a ‘small girl’ … I have also been told that I should not speak because I am a fiction writer … But I am as much a citizen as I am a writer,” she said. It was as a citizen and writer that she spoke out against the recent criminalisation of homosexuality in her home country, a law that not only put the safety of many innocent civilians at risk, but also many of her friends.

• CNA concluded with an anecdote about her own teaching of a workshop in Lagos. A student complained that a story was not “teaching us anything”. At first Adichie dismissed him, but later she thought she had engaged in an “overprivileging of literature”. His question, “Does literature matter?” was an important one to her. “I would not want to live if I were not able to have the consolation that stories give me,” she concluded, “and for this reason I will stand and I will speak for the right of everyone, everyone, to tell his or her story.”

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