Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A decade of literature,politics and cultural activism
The new decade is looking better for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as she is set to receive the first Belle van Zuylenring this month, starting off where she left last decade. An honorary prize set by the ILFU International Literature Festival Utrecht, Adichie is receiving the prize “because of the unique way in which she knows how to display and question the world of today and its ingrained thinking patterns.”
Last decade was surely the lady’s.
From receiving five honorary doctorate degrees in one year to her bestselling book Half of a Yellow Sun being listed in BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’ and more, 2019 seemed to be the year with some of the greatest achievements for the writer.
Chimamanda has bagged nothing less than 15 honourary doctorate degrees from respected universities around the world including Doctor of Letters, (D. Litt) honoris causa, from Yale University; Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa from Georgetown University, Northwestern and American Universities; honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at Rhode Island School of Design and her latest honorary degree from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland in November 2019. Her 2009 TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, is currently one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time with 5.7 million views. In 2010, she was among The New Yorker’s ‘20 Under 40”; a list devoted to young fiction writers, who the editors believe are, or will be, key to their generation.
An entire decade. Where were you 10 years ago? How far have you come from this past decade? It is beyond amazing how much has been achieved in such a long while as time passes without human slightest permission on how fast or slow it should be.What started out as a fan-driven exercise on Twitter tagged #ChimamandaDecade, has inspired the need to recap the renowned writer’s achievements in the last decade even as the world welcomes a New Year and a new decade. Each year of this past decade has been nothing but achievements upon great achievements for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has come so far from being the new author in the block who stole hearts with her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, to becoming not just a writer but a feminist and fashion icon who is duly recognised as a Global Force for Change. Let’s have a recap, shall we?
The Nigerian government gave her the Global Ambassador Achievement Award in 2011. Her 2012 TEDx Euston talk, We Should All Be Feminists, gave more prominence to the feminism world. It was published into a book and had excerpts featured in Beyonce’s song, Flawless, in 2014. In 2016, it was also customised on T-shirts by the first female Creative Director of Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri. This piece has been worn by celebrities including Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, Jennifer Lawrence, Demi Lovato and Asap Rocky.
She was listed by CNN among the ‘Leading Women of 2014’ and was nominated for Forbes Africa ‘Person of the Year’ that same year and the next. In 2015, her novel, Half of a Yellow Sun won the ‘Best of the Best’ in the 20th anniversary of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction).
She was also honoured with Girls Write Now Awards; Groundbreaker honouree. ARISE Magazine listed her as one of the ‘100 Dynamic Women’ in recognition of the strive she puts into her area of expertise. Time Magazine, which referred to her as a ‘Conjurer of Character’ listed her among its ‘100 Most Influential People’.
As a fashion icon, she was named one of the best dressed people in the world by Vanity Fair in 2016, alongside Barack and Michelle Obama, Zadie Smith. She won the Silverbird Special Achievement Award jointly with Desmond Majekodunmi and Alistair Soyode).
In 2017, Chimamanda launched the ‘Wear Nigerian’ Project to promote Nigerian fashion brands globally, this had her wearing clothes designed mostly by Nigerians to prestigious events all around the world. She also became the first Nigerian winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize for her “thought-provoking novels and charismatic public presence.”
That same year, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions; an open letter guiding her friend on how to raise a feminist was published. The manifesto was listed among the best books of 2017 by NPR Books and Audible and won ‘Le Grand Prix de l’héroïne Madame Figaro’ for its French version the same year. She bagged the Harper Bazaar’s Women of the Year Award. Half of a Yellow Sun earned her the spot of first Nigerian to win the Orange Prize award.
Thanks to Purple Hibiscus, she became the first Nigerian winner of the ‘One Maryland, One Book’ Programme, which was created by The Maryland Humanities to unite diverse people through shared experiences of reading the same book. She also won the ‘One Book, One New York Program’, for Americanah, a citywide book club that gets everyone in New York to read the same book simultaneously. Fortune Magazine listed her alongside Pope Francis, Melinda Gates, Ava Duvernay and others in its ‘50 Greatest World Leaders’.
‘First’ has been her tag and so in 2018, Chimamanda became the first African to win the PEN Pinter Prize and also first African to speak at an Harvard University Class Day. Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers awarded her for dedication towards her writing workshop — the Farafina Workshop (now known as The Purple Hibiscus Trust). She became a recipient of the Leadership Award during The Women’s Centre’s 32nd Annual Leadership Conference, was presented with Humanitarian Award by Action Against Hunger in her strong advocacy for gender equality and awarded Global Hope Coalition Thought Leadership Award for being an “Everyday Hero” shaping global conversations concerning feminism, race, and North/South relations.
She was also featured on the cover of Elle Magazine, India as “The Original Feminist” in September 2018. Americanah got featured on PBS’s The Great American Read; a list of America’s 100 most-loved books, it was included in Barack Obama’s recommended summer reading list and listed among the New York Times “15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century”.
She delivered the Yale University Class Day speech becoming the first African to do so. She received the Everett M. Rogers Award which is given yearly to honour the late USC Annenberg professor was given to her. She was named in New African’s list of ‘The 100 Most Influential Africans’ and the fourth most influential African as well as only woman named in the top 5 list. September 2019 had her gracing more Magazine covers including the special issue of British Vogue where the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle selected Adichie amongst 15 others as a ‘Force for Change’. In the special issue of National Geographic Magazine Landmark Book titled WOMEN, Adichie was featured in the section ‘Portraits of Power’ alongside Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates and more.
On September 15, her birthday, she became the first Nigerian to win the Kassel Citizens ‘Prism of Reason’ award (which was presented to her by the citizens of Kassel in Germany) for her vision of humanistic diversity. That same September, it was announced that HBO Max, a division of WarnerMedia Entertainment, is creating a straight-to-series order for the television adaptation of Adichie’s most recent novel, Americanah. The 10-episode series will star Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, with the pilot being written by screenwriter and actor Danai Gurira (who starred in the movie Black Panther) — and will be co-produced by Lupita and Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B.
In November 2019, The UN Foundation awarded her with the Global Leadership Award, making her the first Nigerian and youngest African to receive the prestigious award, which had been won previously by world leaders like Barack Obama, the late Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. In December 2019, Chimamanda hosted friend and Creative Director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri in Lagos in a series or impactful activities for Nigerian fashion designers and creators. One of such activities included the ‘Wear Nigerian’ Fashion Show where some Nigerian designers like The Ladymaker, Mai Atafo, Emmy Kasbit and more were invited to showcase their beautiful designs to the delight of all.
Also in December 2019, she hosted the 12th edition of the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing workshop – her annual creative writing workshop for upcoming and aspiring writers – in Anambra state for the first time (the previous editions were held in Lagos State). While participants are mostly Nigerian, the workshop takes a continental stance as others have come from Kenya, Botswana and other African countries.
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