About The Author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977 to Igbo parents.She studied at the University of Nigeria, before moving to the United States, where she obtained a Masters in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.
Her first novel Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun won the 2007 Orange Prize. This was followed by a collection of short stories, The Thing around Your Neck.
Her work has been selected by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and the BBC Short Story Awards, and has appeared in various literary
publications, including Zoetrope and The Iowa Review.
Questions & Answers
You grew up in Chinua Achebe's house. Was it a literary upbringing?
It was a house owned by the University of Nigeria. Achebe lived there and right after he moved out, my family moved in. It was a safe, happy childhood. I read lots of books.
What made you, like Ifemelu, go to the US at the age of just 19?
I was in medical school in Nigeria but was very unhappy and didn't really want to be a doctor. So the US was my escape from medicine.
Your relationship with the US seems very ambivalent, affectionate but - as also depicted in The Thing Around Your Neck - it is a place of disappointment and struggle.
I think any new country is likely to be a place of struggle - whether literal or metaphysical -- for a person who moves there. I like America very much. I like the sense of possibility in America. But it is not my home in the way that Nigeria is. I may not write 'happy' stories about America but that's mostly because fiction is more interesting when it is about friction!
Are America and England still regarded as glamorous places of plenty, and an American or British passport as the holy grail?
These days, an American passport is much more of a holy grail than a British.
Obinze struggles even more in England than Ifemelu does in the US; do you think one country is more hospitable than the other or are their experiences typical of immigrants trying to make their way in either place?
I think their experiences are specific. They were not intended to be comparative. Both experiences are based on the real experiences of people, so it really was just what I had access to. And perhaps one noteworthy thing is that Ifemelu was documented and Obinze was not, so the difference is less about the countries and more about how much of an impact being documented makes.
Did you consciously choose to write in English or is that a result of the education system in Nigeria, which prioritises English over African languages, such as your native Igbo?
I consider English and Igbo my first languages. In Nigeria, education is entirely in English and so I was really not equipped to write in Igbo. I do write Igbo fairly well, but only because I made a personal effort.
In 2008 you graduated from Yale with an MA in African studies. Why did you choose to do that subject at that time, and why at Yale?
Because Yale has the best program. The best academic resources, archives, manuscripts, etc, on Africa are at Yale. Which is a statement about money. African universities can't afford the kind of money needed to sustain excellent scholarship. I did the progam because I just wanted to immerse myself in reading about the pre-colonial history of West Africa, which is a subject that interests me very much.
Hair and the desire for more 'western', less 'nappy, woollen' hair is an ongoing theme in the story and has almost symbolic value; can you say more about that?
It's not so much that black or African women want western hair. It's that they want the kind of hair that mainstream popular culture (western and non-western) considers beautiful, and because of historical reasons and because of power relationships in the world, that valued hair happens to be hair that looks very different from what grows on their heads.
Does such a thing as Ifemelu's blog about life as a non-American black actually exist? Have you ever been tempted to write one?
No, not that I know of. I've already written one - in the book!
Can you tell us anything about your next project?
I have many ideas in my head. I'm waiting for one of them to take hold of me and refuse to let go.