Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Nigerian Author Who Learned Not To Imitate

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie

I heard an excellent presentation given by novelist Chimamanda Adichie on NPR. If, by the end of this post, I have intrigued you to want to listen to her 18 minute presentation, click on this link: Novelist Chimamanda Adichie's presentation

This post is based on that interview.

Chimamanda Adichie grew up in Nigeria, Africa. Her parents were educators and passed their love for learning on to their daughter. At a very young age, Chimamanda showed a love for reading and writing. 

The books she read were mostly English books containing characters with yellow hair, who saw snow, rejoiced over a day without rain, and drank ginger beer. These stories formed her first impressions of what to write in her own books including characters with yellow hair, who saw snow, rejoiced over a day without rain, and drank ginger beer.

Yet, Chimamanda and those around her had beautiful chocolate skin and black hair that could not be pulled back in a pony tail. Weather was never an issue because the sun always shone. And she'd never tasted ginger beer.

Her first books did not do well because they lacked an essence that comes from experience or understanding. 

How could she realistically portray a story with components she didn't truly identify with?

She realized the problem and returned to her pen and paper to write stories with characters who had black hair and rich dark skin, dealt with the hot sun, ate the same foods she had eaten, and experienced issues common to those in her community. Her characters didn't necessarily fit the preconceptions of men and women living in Africa which are popularized around the world. They portrayed what she knew, not what we know.

Like Chimamanda, there are many educated, well spoken, professionals living on the African continent who do not engage in tribal fighting and similar activities.

She joined efforts with a publisher to write and print books for children living in Africa. These books have been distributed to help boys and girls learn to read and understand more about their own culture.

Imitation can be good.
 Imitation can also be bad.

The key is discernment. Knowing when imitating can help us springboard our efforts and give us good examples--and when it doesn't.

This post has been brought to you by the one-word: DISCERNMENT

Your turn: Share a time when imitation helped you spring-boarded your efforts, or gave you a good example.  If you like, share an example of when imitation did not fare well. 

Oh, and if you have a chance, check out the link in the first paragraph. Chimamanda has quite a gift.

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