Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 43, is practically the most recognisable Nigerian alive. The responsibility of representing a diverse, multi-ethnic entity of 200 million people in international circles is no doubt a thankless task. It isn’t one that Adichie would willingly attract to herself. But it is one that she has worn with the same grace and simplicity that have adorned her prose since her first novel Purple Hibiscus made her a literary star in 2003.
Adichie’s star remains bright blazing through cultural and intellectual spaces, debating ideas as seemingly obvious as feminism (really, we should all be feminists), cancel culture and freedom of speech. Even when some of these ideas are controversial, or at least on the conservative side of the American liberal left- her thoughts on transwomen for instance- she argues with a plainspoken authority that is hard to ignore.
No one is ignoring Adichie anyway. This year, she partnered with Amazon Original Stories to publish Zikora, her first work of fiction since the award-winning tome, Americanah. The stand alone short story, explores one woman’s bumpy road to motherhood and touches on issues like sexism and society’s treatment of single mothers, laying bare some of the indignities that black women still face around the world. With the roll out of Zikora, Adichie joins a group of authors like Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay and Dean Koontz who have published short fiction exclusively for Amazon.
On the 25th year anniversary of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, more than 8,500 members of the reading public voted and deemed Adichie’s towering masterpiece, Half of a Yellow Sun– victorious in 2007- the winner of winners, that is the best book to have ever won the prize. Half of a Yellow Sun came in ahead of acclaimed titles by authors such as Zadie Smith and Lionel Shriver. On the occasion of the publication of A Promised Land, the first volume of Barack Obama’s instant bestselling presidential memoir, the New York Times published Adichie’s glowing review.
In May, Adichie became the first black woman since Patricia Harris forty-two years ago, to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2020. She’s also been the first African to deliver a Yale University Class Day speech and win the PEN Pinter Prize. Adichie is the Nigerian to receive the Kassel Citizens’ ‘Prism of Reason’ award as well as the youngest African and first Nigerian to receive the United Nations Foundation Global Leadership Award. Talk about black girl magic.
It has been an especially difficult year for Adichie, who lost two aunts and her beloved father, James Nwoye, the first professor of statistics in Nigeria, all within a short space of time. She published a thoroughly moving essay in The New Yorker that helped her- and anyone who has ever lost someone- deal with the grief.
But even with the downtime, Adichie was still a light to the rest of the world at the time we needed it the most. With the whole world locked down and indoors, Adichie beamed into our quarantined lives, entertaining us by reading passages from Americanah and introducing us to mellow Brazilian music.
When the youths of Nigeria decided that they had had enough of police brutality and took to the streets to protest, the government responded in the worst possible way, deploying soldiers to shoot at peaceful protesters. Adichie did not hold back, using her platform to speak truth to power. In essays and interviews, Adichie bore witness to the events of #EndSARS and chided the recklessness and lack of compassion on the side of the government. She even did the speechwriters of President Buhari a favor by publishing for free, an example of the kind of speech he should have delivered to calm nerves and unite the nation.
The Legendary Chinua Achebe may have declared Adichie as coming “almost fully made” but even he could not have predicted the outsize influence that this daddy’s girl who grew up in the college campus of Nsukka would have on the entire word.
From her writing to her activism on feminism and equality of the sexes, it has been a privilege to observe this once in a lifetime phenomenon come into herself. She is not quite fully made- no one is- but she is on her way to becoming.
To vote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the YNaija Person of the Year 2020; visit ynaija.com/personoftheyear2020