CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE: The Mighty African Pen

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
By Acha Harrison

Meet the smart, confident and fearless African Women Role Model: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose pen is mightier than the sword. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian National.  She was born in 1977 and raised in Nsukka near the University of Nigeria. She is a novelist, nonfiction writer and short story writer. She has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors that is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature. She happens to be the fifth child in a family of six children. Her father, James Nwoye Adichie, was a professor of statistics who later became the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria. Her mother, Ifeoma Adichie, became the first female registrar at the same University. 


Despite her reputation, limitation never had a role to play in her life. Adichie enrolled in medical school at the behest of her father. She soon dropped out to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. At age 19, she left Nigeria on a scholarship to Drexel University in Philadelphia. She studied Communication at Drexel and earned a degree in Communication and Political Science at Eastern Connecticut State University. In 2001, she graduated with a distinction of Summa Cum Laude. Later that year, she began MFA courses in Literature at John Hopkins University. In 2003, she completed a Master’s Degree in creative writing at John Hopkins University. In 2008, she received a Master of Arts Degree in Africa Studies from Yale University.

She credits Chinua Achebe, the Igbo author of the magnum opus, Things Fall Apart, with her literary success. She once lived in Achebe’s house and believes his halo surrounded her. After reading his books at 10 years old, she realized that people who looked like her could exist in books. Her desire to write was sparked by his work. Indeed, the books you read and the people you associate with have a great influence on your potential. This is the reason behind Adichie’s writing success.

It is true that, with a pencil and a dream, you can change the world. Adichie tries to combat the image of Africans as portrayed by Western media. Though, she has being criticized many times, for shying away from the “real” Africa, still, she has not failed to write about characters that are starving or dying of AIDS.


Adichie's Writing Career

Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including the New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Financial Times and Zoetrope. She has authored three novels, Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Americanah (2013), of a short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009).  Her novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/ Wright Legacy Award. Half of a Yellow Sun, won the orange prize and the Anisifield-Wolf Book Award, and was New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the year. Americanah has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of 2013.

Adichie published a collection of poems in 1997(Decisions) and a play (For Love of Biafra)

  • In 2002, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for her short story, “You in America”
  • In 2003, her story “That Harmattan Morning” was selected as a joint winner of the BBC Short Story Awards, and she won the O. Henry Prize for “The American Embassy. She also won the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003(PEN Center Award).
  • In 2010, she was listed among the authors of The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” Fiction Issue.
  • In April 2014 she was named as one of 39 writers aged under 40 in the Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club Project Celebrating Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital 2014.
  • In 2015, she was Co-curator of the PEN World Voices Festival.


Adichie has delivered many lectures including “The Dangers of a Single Story” for TED in 2009. On 15 March 2012, she delivered the “Connecting Cultures” Commonwealth Lectures 2012 at the Guildhall, London. Also, Adichie spoke on being a feminist for TedxEuston in December 2012, with her speech entitled, “We should All Be Feminist”.

Adichie says on feminism and writing, “I think myself as a storyteller, but I would not mind at all if someone were to think of me as a feminist writer…I’m very feminist in the way I look at the world, and that worldview must somehow be part of my work”.  Her most recent speech was the Commencement Speech delivered on 29th May 2015 at the world’s leading women's university, Wellesley College in Massachusetts, USA. Previous commencement speakers at Wellesley include Hillary Clinton and former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright (who are alumni of Wellesley) as well as Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem and Oprah Winfrey.

She has received numerous awards and distinctions, including a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University during 2005-06 academic year, a recipient of Mac Arthur Foundation Fellowship(2008) and also awarded 2011-12 Fellowship by Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.
Adichie splits her time between Nigeria, where she teaches writing workshops, and the United States.

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