Chelsea Geach's Winning Essay

An Inspirational Woman: Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not a name you are likely to know. She is a Nigerian author, a storyteller, a beautiful young woman full of wisdom and words. She is everything I hope to be.

I am an aspiring journalist from South Africa, here in the United States on study exchange. At my home university, I studied Chimamanda Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and it struck me as a fearless and original work of art. Now, far away from my country and continent, studying in America just as Adichie herself did, her words have taken on a far greater significance in my life.

Chimamanda Adichie is a writer who knows her past, but is not defined by it. She refuses to be stuck in the rut of postcolonial literature, and while paying homage to her literary fathers, she strikes out on a bold new path into an Africa that defies expectations.

Hers is not the Africa of devastation and desolation, of starving children, disease and dictatorships. It is not even the Africa of breathtaking sunsets, vast savannahs, drum beats and ‘vibrant’ culture. It is not defined by the political or picturesque – those versions of Africa are all too familiar to the Western world. Adichie’s Africa is profoundly and dumbfoundingly personal.

She writes about characters I recognize, despite our home countries being on opposite sides of the African continent. She writes about characters you would recognize too, despite living on an entirely different continent. This is because there is no hint of stereotype in her work – she does not rely on the narratives we all already know.

The intersection of the personal and political in her work astounds me. It would be naïve to write about African people without acknowledging the political history and situation of the land; however, her characters have ambitions and concerns that transcend situation and speak to human commonality. A teenage girl in Nigeria worries about schoolwork, finding love, her parents’ expectations and her future. What America teenager can’t identify with that?

As an aspiring journalist, it is from this fiction writer that I draw the most powerful inspiration. Adichie teaches me that one representation of a situation is not enough: she calls it “the danger of a single story”. She reminds me of my duty as a writer to be, above all, human, and to represent my fellow humans with depth and truth that will highlight our commonalities rather than our differences.

Because I am a writer, and because I am an African, Chimamanda Adichie fills me with a need to tell stories that are real – accurate through both their facts and their complexity. She fills me with pride and with hope, and with the motivation to write the world into a better place.