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Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Talks Writing, Feminism, and Race

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who penned the Class of 2018’s common book “Americanah,” spoke to a packed Schwab Auditorium last night about her experience growing up in Nigeria, her advice to freshmen, and her views on the future of feminism and the state of race in America.

Most of the audience members were freshmen, interested in hearing from the person who wrote the book they were required to read prior to arriving at Penn State. Adichie’s “Americanah” details the journey of a Nigerian woman who travels to America to study at a university, where she struggles with her racial identity. Beyond her work as an author, Adichie is also known for her popular “we should all be feminists” TED talk about finding her own voice and her sampling in Beyonce’s song “Flawless.” 

Adichie began the evening by telling the audience about her personal writing process, saying that writing gives her “extravagant joy…when it’s going well.” She described her natural pull to writing, saying, “I write because I love to, I write because I have to…I love the possibility of touching another human being.”

“Where do you get your inspiration,” Adichie said, is the laziest question one can ask a author. Inspiration strikes her everywhere, from the color of someone’s lipstick to conversations she overhears. When writing realistic fiction, she said she starts with a general idea and then the story becomes a journey — sometimes, her characters even surprise her as she’s writing them.

Adichie treated the audience to her natural storytelling ability when she discussed her childhood home, and the significance it holds for her as an author. She grew up in a house on the edge of the University of Nigeria’s campus, where she wrote her first “book” in the dust of her father’s study home desk. She felt that “literary spirits still hovered” when she returned to the home as an adult.

Her lecture was relatively short, as most of the event was dedicated to a Q&A period. Adichie was bubbly and conversational, giving advice to freshmen (“Listen… Listen more than you talk”), and candidly discussing her views on the future of feminism and the state of race in America. On feminism, Adichie talked about her interest in real solutions to real problems, rather than feminist academia. She said in order for gender equality to be reached, kids shouldn’t grow up thinking about gender at all, they should be thinking of themselves as whole people. On race, she said it wasn’t until she came to the United States that she “discovered [she] was black,” and that black Americans are the “ethnic group [she] most admire[s] in the world.” The discovery of one’s own race was a theme in “Americanah.”

Adichie stuck around to sign books for those who waiting in a massive line following her talk. Penn State Reads will sponsor more events and lectures like Adichie’s throughout the year, including classroom conversations and events in the residence halls.

About the Author

Melissa McCleery

Melissa is a senior majoring in Women’s Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. In the little free time she has, Melissa likes to cook, spend all her money at The Phyrst, and add to her collection of blue and white striped clothing. She can be reached via Twitter (@mkmccleery) or email ([email protected]).

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