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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her Place in Literature

Nigeria is located in Western Africa with a population of over 180 million people as of 2016. Among those people are over 250 ethnic groups and tribes, each with their own culture and traditions, including different languages. These tribes contribute to the vast cultural diversity of the country. There are three major tribes in Nigeria called the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, and Yoruba. These tribes make up nearly 70% of the country's population.

While Nigeria has numerous ethnic groups, the three major tribes are the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, and Yoruba. We will discuss their religious and political influences in Nigeria and traditions unique to each one.

Muslim Hausa and Fulani are the predominant ethnic groups in Nigeria’s northern region. Though the groups originated in different parts of West Africa, religion, intermarriage and adoption of the Hausa language by the Fulani have unified the groups over time. In contemporary Nigerian society, they are often referred to collectively as Hausa-Fulani.
The Igbo, the main ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria. In many northern Hausa-Fulani-dominated states, minority populations of Igbo claim to have been unfairly targeted by laws that do not pertain to their faith. Most Igbo people are of the Christian faith and are opponents of Sharia law. At one time, the Igbo people served in many government and military roles. They also played a large part in the independence of Nigeria from British rule. However, in 1967, the start of a 30-month war with the Nigerian government, known as the Biafran War, led to many Igbo people starving to death, and becoming less of a force in Nigerian society. Today, the Igbo people still play a role in the Nigerian oil trade, but their political influence has diminished.
The Yoruba are one of Nigeria’s most urban ethnic groups. Historically, their culture centered on densely populated city-states each controlled by an oba, or king. Yoruba now form the majority in Lagos, the second most populous city in Africa. 
In modern day Nigeria, Yoruba speakers do not always identify with their larger ethnic group, but rather the many smaller Yoruba-speaking communities.

The largest of the major ethnic groups, Hausa and Fulani have been politically dominant since Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960.
Islam is a key component of their ethnic identity and continues to inform their role in modern Nigerian society and politics. Their culture is deeply patriarchal and patrilineal.
The Hausa-Fulani adopted the Islamic system of law, called Sharia. This system is based on the teachings of the Koran, and includes religious and secular duties. It also provides penalties for law breaking.
Music and art are part of the Hausa-Fulani traditions. From a young age, children participate in songs and dances, which are held in local meeting places. The Hausa-Fulani people also engage in work songs in the rural and marketplace areas. They often participate in story-telling, music performances, and local dramas as a form of entertainment.
Many Igbo people are subsistence farmers, with staple crops being yams, corn, pumpkins, melons, and beans. Harvest time is a time of celebration, and the Igbo people love to engage in music. They play the flute and drums, as well as other traditional instruments.
This pluralism extends to Yoruba views of religion. As Islam and Christianity spread to Yorubaland over the past few centuries, the group embraced both faiths alongside its many traditional and animist beliefs. This blend and acceptance of religion survives in modern times and has mitigated some religious conflict in places where Yoruba form the majority.
Like the Igbo, Yoruba held important roles in the British colonial government, participating significantly in both political and economic life. Since independence, the group has been overshadowed by the more numerous and dominant Hausa-Fulani.
However, in 1999 a Christian Yoruba named Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s president and first elected head of state. He was reelected for a second term in 2003.
Nigerian citizens have authored many influential works of post-colonial literature in the English language. Nigeria's best-known writers are Wole Soyinka, the first African Nobel Laureate in Literature, and Chinua Achebe, best known for the novel Things Fall Apart (1958) and his controversial critique of Joseph Conrad.
Other Nigerian writers and poets who are well known internationally include John Pepper Clark, Ben Okri, Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, Helon Habila, T. M. Aluko, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Daniel O. Fagunwa, Femi Osofisan and Ken Saro Wiwa, who was executed in 1995 by the military regime. Nigeria has the second largest newspaper market in Africa (after Egypt) with an estimated circulation of several million copies daily in 2003.

I just write. I have to write. I like to say that I didn't choose writing, writing chose me. This may sound slightly mythical, but I sometimes feel as if my writing is something bigger than I am. 

Novelist and feminist campaigner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in 1977 to a middle-class Igbo family in Enugu, Nigeria. While the family's ancestral hometown is Abba in Anambra State, Chimamanda grew up in the university town of Nsukka where she attended primary and secondary schools and briefly studied Medicine and Pharmacy. Her mother, Grace Ifeoma became the first female registrar at the University of Nigeria, while her father, James Nwoye Adichie. was a professor of statistics there,  and later became Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University. The fifth of six children, she lived what she describes as a ‘very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family.’ Chimamanda means "My god will not fall down" or "My god will not fail me."Most Igbo names have incredible meanings. It's a lovely language. Musical. Incredible names. Life affirming names.

I was born in Enuga, Nigeria. I grew up in the house previously occupied by Chinua Achebe. When I was seven we moved into what had been Achebe's house in Nsukka, where the University of Nigeria is. It's a lovely coincidence.

Pressured by social and familial expectations, Adichie ‘did what I was supposed to do’ and began to study medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria. During this period, she edited The Compass, a magazine run by the University's Catholic medical students. After a year and a half, at the age of 19, she decided to pursue her ambitions as a writer, dropped out of medical school and took up a communication scholarship in the US. She gained a scholarship to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia for two years, and she went on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she also wrote articles for the university journal, the Campus Lantern. While in Connecticut, she stayed with her sister Ijeoma, who runs a medical practice close to the university. From day one, she became alert to racial generalisations, having to address the ‘story of catastrophe’ perspective her American room-mate had of the entire African continent.
Chimamanda graduated summa cum laude from Eastern in 2001, and then completed a master's degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.
After a year and a half at the University of Nigeria, I decided I didn't want to study medicine. Because I did well in school, I was expected to become a doctor. But I wanted to be a writer. I realized I couldn't do that in my country, I would have to come to the U.S. My parents let me do it. They realized I was the kind of person who knew what I wanted. I came to the U.S. to study at Drexel University for two years. I had a scholarship.

It is during her senior year at Eastern that she started working on her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was released in October 2003. The book has received wide critical acclaim: it was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (2005).
Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (also the title of one of her short stories), is set before and during the Biafran War. It was published in August 2006 in the United Kingdom and in September 2006 in the United States. Like Purple Hibiscus, it has also been released in Nigeria.
My oldest sister Igeoma had a young son and she was starting a medical practice. I could pay for college by babysitting for him and live rent free. So I became his mother of sorts. I didn't have a life. I didn't hang out. I could come home and write at night. I would get him ready for school, go to school, then I'd be home when he got back, and cook supper. Then I would sit down and write. Before that I wrote a really bad novel. I was writing what I thought was hip. It wasn't true. Then I wrote Purple Hibiscus (2003). It was organic. The first burst of writing went well. It was what gave me joy. Reworking was harder. It's what happens being from a nonliterary family. My sister is very practical. Her husband is a doctor, too. They didn't understand my need for solitude. When they would go off for the weekend, I looked forward to being at home alone.
Chimamanda was a Hodder fellow at Princeton University during the 2005-2006 academic year, and earned an MA in African Studies from Yale University in 2008. In 2011-2012, she was awarded a fellowship by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, which allowed her to finalize her third novel, Americanah. The book was released to great critical acclaim in 2013.
Adichie with her husband, Ivara Esege
Chimamanda is now married and has a daughter. She divides her time between Nigeria, where she regularly teaches writing workshops, and the United States.
Adichie’s three novels all focus on contemporary Nigerian culture, its political turbulence and at times, how it can intersect with the West. She published Purple Hibiscus in 2003, Half of a Yellow Sunin 2006 and Americanah in 2013. Each time, she manages to give any amateur a lesson in the recent history of Nigeria. Not simply the history one could peer into a dusty tome for, but one showing us the country’s diverse cultures, its personal stories, its idioms, its futures.
Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970) in which the Igbo people – an ethnic group of southern Nigeria – sought to establish an independent republic. Adichie chose three unlikely characters to narrate the story: a young houseboy, a woman professor and an English writer who identifies as Biafran. The reader is consequently required to assess narratives of class, gender, race and overall ‘belonging’ throughout. Criticism of Western colonialism and its aftershocks are demonstrated through the conflicted white journalist Richard. He laments to Western journalists that ‘one hundred dead black people equal one dead person’ and is later urged to write about the war because ‘[the West] will take what you write more seriously because you are white.’ This makes a powerful critique of the stories we listen to and why. Adichie herself commented that ‘I wanted to make a strongly-felt political point about who should be writing the stories of Africa.’
Leaving Nigeria made me much more aware of being Nigerian and what that meant. It also made me aware of race as a concept, because I didn’t think of myself as black until I left Nigeria.
Although her novels and wider writings are the best window into Adichie’s incisive and emotive imagination, she has delivered several impressive talks that get to the heart of their subject. They broadly encompass race and gender, and our tendency to accept what we are taught without recognising ingrained prejudice. Her 2009 lecture, The Danger of a Single Story, is a brilliant discussion of race, but her argument is cleverly applicable across much broader contexts. This is where she spoke of her room-mate in the US having a preconceived idea of who she, a Nigerian, would be: ‘In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her [the room-mate] in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.’ In this lecture, her discussion of US perceptions of Mexicans as the ‘abject immigrant’ during the early 2000s, could just as easily be transferred to our current hysteria about Syrian refugees entering Europe.

Adichie’s 2013 lecture We Should All Be Feminists discusses the damaging paradigms of femininity and masculinity. ‘We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man.”‘
Adichie argues that Feminism should not be an ‘elite little cult’ but a ‘party full of different feminisms.’ It feels a particularly important message to take to heart – we are imperfect, we are attempting to unlearn what we have unconsciously learned and simultaneously discovering new ways of seeing. As she notes so beautifully, ‘Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.’

Adichie has been invited to speak around the world. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the top ten most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has a started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014.