Chimamanda Adichie & Zadie Smith Would Make the Most Amazing Dinner Guests

Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith_peoplewhowrite

The video won’t be accessible via Livestream starting April 19, 2014. However, you can request it from the Schomburg’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division after that time.

Two of my favorite authors Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith came together at New York’s famed Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to discuss Adichie’s National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel Americanah, and the issues of feminism and race explored in the book. The conversation was, of course, riveting. The kind of dialogue you want to have over a glass (or bottles) of wine, and courses of sticky, savory goodness. The type of exchange you need to interrupt with saliva missile affirmations of “Amen!” or “Word!”, and “I hear you, but…” objections.

Watch and talk back to the screen, like I did.

“I think it’s very important that brilliant women step out there and be hot babes.”
I hear you but… what it means to be a “hot babe” has been created and controlled by men to satisfy their own desires, and advanced by powers with an agenda to make money at the expense of women’s insecurities. I think it’s more important that women focus on brilliance than hotness, or better yet that brilliance be equal to hotness.

“I think it’s very easy to confuse something that’s badly written as somehow deep.”
Word! And also easy to confuse writing that isn’t deep as bad.

“I like to say that this is my ‘Fuck you’ book. …in some ways, ‘Fuck you’ to another version of myself. With Half of a Yellow Sun, I was very much — I was very dutiful. I think for so long, I’ve been a dutiful daughter of literature. I’ve followed the rules: ‘Show don’t tell.’ That sort of thing. With Americanah, I thought, you know what? I’m just going to write the book that I want to write.”

There’s been a lot of talk / debate about breaking away from the convention of the novel. In a 2008 essay I’m too cheap to pay for called “Two Paths for the Novel“, Zadie Smith “proposed …exposing [realism’s] foundations in white liberal thought, demolishing its bedrock assumptions about meaning, language, and selfhood.” And her latest novel NW was widely reviewed as her attempt to do just that. Likewise, Open City and Everyday is for the Thief author Teju Cole told the New York Times “‘the novel’ is overrated, and the writers I find most interesting find ways to escape it.”

I don’t know that I think the traditional form or structure of a novel has to be totally thrown away. I think it’s about evolving the wheel, rather than reinventing it.

“It’s important for me to acknowledge my class privilege.”
Word. Up. As black women, we undoubtedly live outside the sphere of white male privilege, but as educated, middle-class women we do enjoy certain advantages. It’s easy to see how obtuse the powerful can be when you are in the underprivileged position, but easier to go blind when you’re in the power position. I know people, for example, who are quick to rail against economic inequality in the States, yet are happy to perpetuate it in Ghana so they can continue to hire labor for dirt cheap.

“You very quickly realize you are expected to play the good black, because you are not African-American.”
Yup. The “good black”. And then comes that dawning moment when you’re denied entry into a shop or killed for looking suspicious… and you realize you’re playing a losing game. Through the glass doors of a luxury boutique or on a rainy night, the only thing some people see is your skin — and the generations of stereotypes, junk science, and institutionalized bias associated with it. 

“You can be in love in this country, and still be expected, if you go out, to individually pay for your own food.”

“Really, the only reason that race matters is because of racism.”
That’s right. Race is purely a construct, a figment. I recently read Dr. Yaba Blay’s (1)ne Drop Rule where she breaks down the 16 categories / designations of blackness in New Orleans and profiles people whose appearance don’t immediately indicate “black”. It drove home the point to me that blackness — and whiteness, and everything in between — are political and social identities that shape shift depending on culture, time, and space.

“I think there is a narrative that America likes to tell itself which is that all immigrants should be terribly grateful to have come and should therefore shut-up and not complain. And there are many good things about America, but it’s not perfect and people have trouble adapting and adjusting, and some people want to go home.”
Yes, indeed. One of the things immigrants’ rights opponents miss is that most people would prefer to live and work in their native country than start from scratch in a new land with little to no money, connections, contacts, or family support in most cases. If people really want folks not to come to America, they should start challenging foreign policy that cripples or compromises the economies of certain nations, and look at real reparations for nations that were literally robbed of their men, women, and children to work for free to build other nations. British slaveholders were given payouts when abolition outlawed slavery, and their descendants are still enjoying the financial legacy of this remuneration. What would happen–how would the globe’s economy be impacted–if the African nations that were plundered for the transatlantic slave trade were refunded for the loss?

Chimamanda Adichie Wins 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - peoplewhowrite

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie’s third novel Americanah took top fiction honors at tonight’s National Book Critics Circle Award, beating out Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch which has been a near-unanimous hit, dominating most “Best of 2013” lists. Adichie’s book, which examined race from the perspective of a Nigerian hair blogger, also edged out Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being which also earned a spot on the Man Booker shortlist, Alice McDermott’s Someone, and Javier Marias’s The Infatuations. Americanah is also up for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction.

Though pop-culture enthusiasts may have firtst become aware of Adichie when Beyonce sampled her TEDx speech on her much-debated 2013 track “***Flawless”, the Nigerian author has commanded literary attentions since her debut. Publishers Weekly called her 2003 novel Purple Hibiscus “lush, cadenced…accomplished”, and it was longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Baileys Prize).

Her sophomore effort, 2007’s Half of a Yellow Sun earned the the Orange, and has been adapted into a feature film starring Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose set for release later this year. Adichie’s 2009 short-story collection The Thing Around Your Neck was also well received.

National Book Critics Circle Award Winners_peoplewhowrite

The winners in all other competitive categories are:

Amy Wilentz’s Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A letter from Haiti

Leo Damrosch’s Jonathan Swift: His life and his world

Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading

Sherri Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a storm-ravaged hospital

Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog

Visit for more details.

Adichie, Catton, Kushner, & Tartt on Baileys Longlist

Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers, has been longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction - peoplewhowrite

Rachel Kushner

The longlist for the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced and it boasts Donna Tartt whose novel The Goldfinch has sat atop pretty much every “Best of 2013” list, Man Booker Prizewinner Eleanor Catton, and Chimamanda Adichie whose third novel Americanah has been right there with Tartt’s on the love lists and enjoyed a bump in attention and sales when Beyonce sampled the author’s TEDx speech on feminism. Also in contention are Pulitzer Prizewinner Elizabeth Strout, Rachel Kushner, and Elizabeth Gilbert who has tirelessly promoted her latest novel The Signature of All Things with a focus on bringing along the legion of readers who made her memoir Eat, Pray, Love a juggernaut success.

The Prize’s five judges–“Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, writer Denise Mina, Times columnist, author and screenwriter, Caitlin Moran and BBC broadcaster and journalist, Sophie Raworth…chaired by former Managing Director of Penguin Books UK and Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, Helen Fraser”–will cull the 20 books listed below to six, before the winner is announced on June 4, 2014.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto
The Bear by Claire Cameron
Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Donna Tartt Among 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - peoplewhowrite

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

On Monday, the National Book Critics Circle announced 30 finalists for their 2014 awards ceremony on March 13, 2014 at 6p which is free to attend and open to the public. The list includes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Americanah, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being which also earned a spot on the Man Booker shortlist, and Donna Tartt‘s pretty much universally-lauded The Goldfinch. A few of the finalists below:

Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave (Knopf)
Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (Viking)
Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped (Bloomsbury)
Amy Wilentz, Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A letter from Haiti (Simon & Schuster)

Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia: War, deceit, imperial folly and the making of the modern Middle East (Doubleday)
Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His life and his world(Yale University Press)
John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Knopf)
Linda Leavell, Holding on Upside Down: The life and work of Marianne Moore (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Thompson, Birth Certificate: The story of Danilo Kis (Cornell University Press

Hilton Als, White Girls (McSweeney’s)
Mary Beard, Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Liveright)
Jonathan Franzen, The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with Paul Reiter and Daniel Kehlmann (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Janet Malcolm, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Franco Moretti, Distant Reading (Verso)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Knopf)
Alice McDermott, Someone (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Javier Marias, The Infatuations (Knopf)
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (Viking)
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown)

Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the manhunt that brought him to justice (Norton)
Sherri Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a storm-ravaged hospital (Crown)
David Finkel, Thank You For Your Service (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
George Packer, The Unwinding: An inner history of the new America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the prison of belief (Knopf)

Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion (Knopf)
Denise Duhamel, Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Bob Hicok, Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon)
Carmen Gimenez Smith, Milk and Filth (University of Arizona Press)

Get the full list of finalists here. If you’re in New York, plan to attend the free finalist’s reading on Wednesday March 12, 2014 at 6p, New School University, 66 West 12th Street.