My favorite Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is in New York to promote her latest novel, Americanah, which just came out in paperback. Last night she spoke to a packed house at the Tenement Museum (www.tenement.org), today she’ll be a guest on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC and next week she’ll be at the Schomburg in Harlem. That conversation, which will be with Zadie Smith, is already “sold out” – the tickets were free – but you can live stream it here, http://www.nypl.org/locations/tid/64/node/235206?lref=64, as I plan to do.
I’ve been tempted to run around the city, following Adichie but have resisted doing so since I’ve had the privilege of hearing her read and speak a few times already, and frankly I can’t face the throngs of people who are turning up as her audience. She’s hugely popular and one of the very best things to come of out Nigeria in recent years.
Americanah, essentially a love story that follows two teenagers, Ifemelu and Obinze, from Nigeria to the east coast of the U.S. to London, with several other cycles in between, and eventually brings us back to Lagos. Through the complexities of their relationship, in her clean, easy prose, Adichie takes us on a journey that explores race, “blackness”, culture clashes between Nigerians and African-Americans, experiences of immigration (both legal and undocumented), and the politics of hair. This is a book I’ll recommend to friends who better want to understand the Nigeria I grew up in and the complexity of coming to America as a person of African heritage only to find that the American blacks you encounter here are foreign to you (and you to them), and race is a polarizing construct that permeates the culture in insidious ways.
I read Americanah last year in hardback, finishing it in the dusk of Bryan Park, skimming the final few pages – to find out whether Ifemelu and Obinze get back together again – before rushing it over to the Mid-Manhattan library so I wouldn’t incur a library fine. (I’ve since purchased a copy.) Several months later, I saw a woman in my neighborhood carrying the book as we entered a subway elevator together and asked her how she was enjoying it. That led to a sidewalk conversation, where I disclosed that I was a Nigerian, at which point she asked if I was a writer. Dodging the question, I admitted that I was working on a “writing project.” Turned out she was the organizer of Bloom Readings ( http://www.bloomreadings.org/), a Sunday afternoon reading series that takes place once a month, from September to May in Hudson View Gardens. As we continued to chat over email, and she learned more about my memoir-in-progress, she invited to read at one of her gatherings.
So last month, on Feb 7, I had the very distinct privilege of reading my piece, “The Call,” about the harrowing experience of observing a C-section in Uganda, alongside poet and writer David Groff (www.davidgroff.com), Stacy Le Miel Parker (stacyparkeraa.com) who works with Afghan women writers and blogs for the Huffington Post, and Chris Hansen-Nelson, a blogger and producer, among other talents. Check out his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/chris.hansennelson. It was an exhilarating evening to be with these accomplished writers – and all because of Americanah.
Thank you Chimamanda.