Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Talks Motherhood, Being a writer, Feminism & more with Vulture

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Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in an interview with VULTURE in New York, gave a detailed perspective into a lot of issues going on in today’s world. The author opened up on, being a writer, being a mother, feminism, empathy and much more.

Below are some of the questions she answered;

Has #MeToo changed gender and power dynamics in meaningful ways?
I hope it does, but it hasn’t. What I like about #MeToo is the idea that now women’s stories have the possibility of being believed, which is almost revolutionary. Now a woman can tell her story and she might still get castigated, but there’s the possibility that she gets public support and that there are consequences for whoever harassed or assaulted her. That’s not happened before. But the shape of the narratives around #MeToo can still be troubling.

You wrote Dear Ijeawele before you had your daughter. Is there any advice in the book that, now that you have a childAdichie and her husband, fellow Nigerian and physician Dr. Ivara Esege, have a 2-year-old daughter together., feels like it’ll be harder to follow through on?
Yes, I wrote that [Dear Ijeawele] when I wasn’t a mother and it’s easier to write about a hypothetical child than to write about a real one. The child that book was addressed to is sort of an idea of a child. But having my own — you don’t realize how difficult it is day-to-day to combat negative ideas. Sometimes when you’re raising a child it’s like the universe is in conspiracy against you. You go to the toy store looking for something not necessarily “girly” and you’re overwhelmed by the pink and the dolls. Even the prayers my daughter got from family members: They’re like, “We hope she finds a good husband.” I’m optimistic that those kinds of things will change but I think about how women are socialized — even the most resistant women still get things under our skin.

You’re arguably better known for being a feminist than you are for being a novelist. Does it matter to you if feminism is the main lens through which people read your fiction?
I don’t want to be read ideologically because my fiction isn’t ideological. If it were then all my women characters would be empowered. They’re not. In general, I don’t like reading fiction that is very ideologically consistent and where everybody does the right thing all the time. Life isn’t like that and fiction has to be about the real texture of life. Sometimes I’ll speak at schools and the students have been introduced to me as a feministAt a TEDx Talk in London in 2012, Adichie presented an inclusive definition for a feminist: “a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.’” The talk had viral success outside the literary world with almost 5 million views, and, when expanded into a book, became a Times best seller. and they’ll ask questions like, “What is the feminist take on your character?” I don’t know the bloody feminist take on my character! I don’t know because that’s not where the impulse to write the character came from.

Why can’t movements afford nuance?
With the #MeToo movement, it’s still so young and fragile that I understand the impulse to say that the perpetrators on the other side of it are completely evil. And if you acknowledge nuance you run the risk of the movement falling apart. I understand that, but I’m also person who believes in redemption — to a certain extent. Some people I don’t think are redeemable.

Isn’t it a good thing to resist the impulse to blindly defend something?
Not all the time. Now we’re talking politics. Now we’re talking strategy. You need to think about what you want to achieve. The only way we can create the world we want is if we deal with the world as it is. Right now, for example, just reading about who might run for the Democrats, I’m constantly struck by how people on the left are like “oh no, she took money from so-and-so.” We sometimes have to ignore the faults of a person who is likely to push something progressive forward. If we eat our own, as the left often does, we risk giving up positions of power.

Maybe I’m politically naïve, but doesn’t tribalism snuff out multiple perspectives in damaging ways?
Yeah, but there are some things for which we shouldn’t consider multiple points of view. I don’t want to hear multiple perspectives on the question of human dignity. There’s one perspective: Every human being in the world deserves dignity. Or separating children from their parents: that’s inhumane. There are positions that the left should never compromise on. Anyway, what was your original question?

In your New Yorker profile you said that one day you’d tell your daughter what it means to be black“Someday she will talk to her about what it means to be black, but not yet,” wrote Larissa MacFarquhar in a recent Adichie profile in The New Yorker. “She wants her daughter to be in a place where race as she has encountered it in America does not exist.”. Do you know what you’ll say?
No, I don’t. I want to protect her from everything. I know I can’t.

My question was related to that movie, but let’s try anyway. When Black Panther came out it was seen as a victory for representation. But is representation enough as a political end? The cynic in me sometimes wonders if a bunch of white guys in a boardroom somewhere can look at the all money Black Panther made and feel like that lets them off the hook for there still being all white guys in the boardroom.
I don’t think people who celebrate Black Panther think representation is enough. Representation is a start, but I want a black person to be writing the checks. I don’t know how you get into the secret society of people who actually write checks but that’s where black women and men need to get to, and white women, and Chinese women. How wonderful it would be if in that meeting of the executives you had white men, Chinese men, Indian men, black men, white women, black women, Sri Lankan women. The stories that would come out of that would be fantastic because if someone brought up cultural bullshit, there’d be someone there who could call it bullshit. So to get back to your question, yes, I like that Black Panther exists. But it makes me sad that it’s 2018 and the reaction to that movie speaks to how novel its existence is. It shouldn’t be so novel.

Does America today still offer the sense of opportunity that it did for some of your Nigerian characters in Americanah? Has Trumpism reduced that sense of possibility?
Actually there’s a large number of Nigerians who admire Trump because he represents a certain kind of African big man. Also, for Christian Nigeria, Trump is fixing all the bad things they believe Obama did, one of which is gay marriage. So for many people, America’s standing hasn’t changed. And for intellectuals and people who are left-leaning politically, there’s a kind of wicked glee [about Trump’s rise], because they think now America can’t lecture us about good governance. It’s a glee that’s very easy to understand, because Americans are very good at coming to tell you how to do something properly.

You said earlier that you don’t think of yourself as an ideological writer, but what made you feel comfortable being a public advocate for feminism? Were you always interested in being a public intellectual in the same way that I assume you always wanted to be a writer?
When I started, all I wanted was to write books that somebody would read. I didn’t plan to become this “feminist icon,”What other novelist is quoted in the rarefied air of a Beyoncé single and has their work quoted on a Dior T-shirt? which is something I feel uncomfortable with. People say, “This is what you’re known for.” But that’s not what I know myself for.

Why are people so quick to tag you as a feminist rather than a novelist?
Feminism is an easy hook. In a way, literature is more diverse, and maybe it’s easier for people to peg me as a feminist icon than a novelist. But I’ve always been interested in politics. The burning thing of how do we make things better is what makes me keep talking about feminism. And I have to tell you: doing that is not always good for my art. I’m trying to better balance my time. But talking about feminism comes from passion. I really believe we can make the world better.

Were you worried about what having a child would mean for your art?
Yes. I used to think I wouldn’t be a good mother because I was so dedicated to my art. I said to myself, I have nephews and nieces who I adore, and I helped raise them, so those will be my children. That’s what I thought for a long time, because I felt that I couldn’t be true to both my art and my child.

What changed?
Getting older. I like to joke and say that you’re ready [to have a child] when your body isn’t ready, and when your body is ready, you’re not mentally ready. I guess you have the best eggs when you’re, like, 22, but at 22 you don’t even know yourself. Then when you’re 38 and know yourself, your eggs are not the best quality. Anyway, we’ll talk about eggs another time. But my baby happened, and it’s important to talk honestly about this, because having her changed a lot. Having a child gets in the way of writing. It does. You can’t own your time the way you used to. But the other thing that motherhood does — and I kind of feel sorry for men that they can’t have this — is open up a new emotional plane that can feed your art.

Read the full interview here

This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.

Annotations by Matt Stieb.

Production Credits: Styling by Rebecca RamseyDress by Dries Van Noten.

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