The danger of a single story

November 29, 2009 § 4 Comments

This is a superb presentation by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Also see Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to write about Africa“, and Uzodinma Iweala’s “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa“. (thanks Rabee’ah)

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

In Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun has helped inspire new, cross-generational communication about the Biafran war. In this and in her other works, she seeks to instill dignity into the finest details of each character, whether poor, middle class or rich, exposing along the way the deep scars of colonialism in the African landscape.

Adichie’s newest book, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a brilliant collection of stories about Nigerians struggling to cope with a corrupted context in their home country, and about the Nigerian immigrant experience.

Adichie builds on the literary tradition of Igbo literary giant Chinua Achebe—and when she found out that Achebe liked Half of a Yellow Sun, she says she cried for a whole day. What he said about her rings true: “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.”

When she turned 10 and read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, about the clash between Igbo tradition and the British colonial way of life, everything changed: ‘I realized that people who looked like me could live in books.’ She has been writing about Africa ever since.

Washington Post

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§ 4 Responses to The danger of a single story

  • Ann says:

    A terrific presentation. As John Berger has said, may it be that “Never again will a single story be told as if it is the only one.” And my apologies for having the initial post disappear.

  • 99 says:

    Yes. It would be very helpful if all kinds of stories from all over the place could gain traction everywhere, especially in Western “civilization” where it would do the very most good the fastest, but it would be even better if we could learn to train the infant ego away from its bad habits before it hardens into something that uses these shortcuts to make its way in the world. We seem to have a dearth of Chimamanda Adichies, people who are disposed to notice their default assumptions need revising, and actually revise them, actually go about the hard work of ripping them from everywhere they have reached in one’s own mind and injecting something more open and nuanced in each of those places… as she very brilliantly describes here in so short a time.

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