The Chimamanda interview

The other day, Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in conversation with South African celebrity comic and talk show host Trevor Noah on his program‘The Daily Show’.‘The Daily Show’ is watched by millions of people across America, as well as several countries of the world, including Nigeria.

Trevor always makes it fun, with his risqué jokes. He has a thing about the President of the USA, Mr. Donald Trump. He dislikes his guts, and never misses any opportunity to take him down. He has been on his back since his days as Candidate Trump, when thesmart word out there was that the man was a joke. Trump proved no joke – he went on to become President. Trevor, unmindful, has continued to pillory him. Every episode of ‘Daily Show’ starts and ends with a Trump joke.

The guests are usually at the witty best. The studio audience has a great laugh, everybody has a good time – except, perhaps, Mr Donald Trump.

An ever-increasing audience worldwide testifies to the popular appeal of our boy Trevor and his show.

Chimamanda is, of course, that exciting Nigerian writer who has been making great waves in literary circles. She has soared to lofty heights, becoming one of the most recognizable brands in world literature. Her name itself – Chimamanda, has a certain ring to it that is like no other. Only the other day, she addressed the graduating class at Harvard, the ultimate mark of cachet for the intelligentsia.

But much of her most recent wave-making has been – not on account of her literature, but because of her avowed feminism. Indeed, the book that is the ostensible reason for her appearance on Trevor’s show on this day is a slim volume with a title that is a mouthful.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’

The bold unconventionality of the title is vintage Chimamanda, with an in-your-face use of the long Ibo name. Many black people in the Western world have felt compelled, sometimes unbidden, to ‘shorten’ or modify their names to suit the conventions, convenience, or – perhaps most aptly, the linguistic limitations of the Western tongue. African names have become so distorted that they have been lost in the translation. Unfortunately, such ‘nonsense’ names are then copied naively by African Americans seeking to be ‘authentic’. A ‘brother’ proudly flaunts an ‘African’ name that has been disconnected from its roots and left with no meaning at all.

Deliberately, Chimamanda employs African names in her literature in authentic form, not caring whose ox is gored by the difficulty in pronouncing them. Stiff upper-lipped professors of Literature-in-Englishin Ivy League institutions are compelled to learn to pronounce Ibo names that are tough assignments even for fellow Nigerians.

The book in focus is a letter to her friend, who has asked her advice on how to bring up her daughter to ensure she is a feminist, and, yes, her friend’s name is truly ‘Ijeawele’, as she explains to Trevor.

She is in a white, close-fitting dress that has square patterns cut in both sleeves. The dress shows off her beautiful well-rounded African figure, and as she perches on the chair, she flashes a sparkling white smile at her host across the table.

Unfortunately, even the above favourable, and true, description, has already run foul of the feminist credo, of which Chimamanda is now a recognized world leader. By describing her figure, and her dress, and her smile, the writer is guilty of ‘objectifying’ the lady, and so diminishing her, or so the narrative goes. The clincher, in advancing their line of argument is the question they ask you – ‘Would you describe a man in the same way?’

Often in such situations, the person who does not wish to incur the full wrath of the Wakanda Warriors of feminism is apt to beat a hasty retreat, for fear of that crime which is accepted in intellectual circles as being fully deserving of capital punishment – misogyny.

 

Chimamanda’s conversation with Trevor Noah flows smoothly. He likes her, and she likes him.

‘I read in your book about your mother…It’s clear that you inherited your best traits from her…’ she tells him, flashing her wide and very white smile.

Trevor, never to be caught out, concedes that she is ceding ownership of the bad parts of his character to be shared between him and his father.

 

Chimamanda’s definition of ‘feminist’ is not a female who fights for female rights but everybody, male and female, who accepts the total equality of human beings, whatever their gender. She cites Barak Obama as role model.

When we are released from gender roles, everybody is better for it…’ Chimamanda says. She is declaring it as a truism. It is the bedrock of her feminist world view. But in the eyes of many, and certainly in the world view of many high-achieving African women you know, it is not true. You consider the icons you grew up admiring.  Pelewura – the first Iyaloja of Lagos, an illiterate market-woman before whom male colonial administrators quacked; Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji; Funmilayo Ransome Kuti – who virtually threw the Alake of Egba-land out of his palace. They were women who dominated their world but did not ask to be released from their gender role. They did not repudiate their feminity. If anything,they embraced it, and used it to their advantage.

 

Further down the conversation, the Nigerian writer reveals she doesn’t think men should open doors for women because it implies women are weak. She’s offended by people speaking of protecting ‘women and children’ in disaster situations – she thinks the protection is derogatory and should be reserved for the ‘weak’ of whatever sex. Parents of girls should not lead them to pick toys from dolls and other ‘girlie’ items in toy shops, but should tell them they can pick from anywhere, whether it is rugby balls or boxing gloves.

 

Some weeks before the interview, Chimamanda had been in the news for upbraiding Hillary Clinton for listing ‘wife’ first among her attributes in her twitter profile. She felt it de-meaned womanhood, since Bill was not likely to put ‘husband’ first among his attributes in writing his own profile.

 

The conversation between Trevor and Chimamanda flows like a song.

Very soon, the time is up. Trevor holds up a copy of

Letter to Ijeawele’ like a trophy, encouraging everyone to get their own.

There is barely enough time left for him to deliver his parting Donald Trump joke.

 

The other day, Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in conversation with South African celebrity comic and talk show host Trevor Noah on his program‘The Daily Show’.‘The Daily Show’ is watched by millions of people across America, as well as several countries of the world, including Nigeria. Trevor always makes it fun, with his risqué jokes. He has a thing about the President of the USA, Mr. Donald Trump. He dislikes his guts, and never misses any opportunity to take him down. He has been on his back since his days as Candidate Trump, when thesmart word out there was that the man was a joke. Trump proved no joke – he went on to become President. Trevor, unmindful, has continued to pillory him. Every episode of ‘Daily Show’ starts and ends with a Trump joke. The guests are usually at the witty best. The studio audience has a great laugh, everybody has a good time – except, perhaps, Mr Donald Trump. An ever-increasing audience worldwide testifies to the popular appeal of our boy Trevor and his show. Chimamanda is, of course, that exciting Nigerian writer who has been making great waves in literary circles. She has soared to lofty heights, becoming one of the most recognizable brands in world literature. Her name itself – Chimamanda, has a certain ring to it that is like no other. Only the other day, she addressed the graduating class at Harvard, the ultimate mark of cachet for the intelligentsia. But much of her most recent wave-making has been - not on account of her literature, but because of her avowed feminism. Indeed, the book that is the ostensible reason for her appearance on Trevor’s show on this day is a slim volume with a title that is a mouthful. ‘Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ The bold unconventionality of the title is vintage Chimamanda, with an in-your-face use of the long Ibo name. Many black people in the Western world have felt compelled, sometimes unbidden, to ‘shorten’ or modify their names to suit the conventions, convenience, or – perhaps most aptly, the linguistic limitations of the Western tongue. African names have become so distorted that they have been lost in the translation. Unfortunately, such ‘nonsense’ names are then copied naively by African Americans seeking to be ‘authentic’. A ‘brother’ proudly flaunts an ‘African’ name that has been disconnected from its roots and left with no meaning at all. Deliberately, Chimamanda employs African names in her literature in authentic form, not caring whose ox is gored by the difficulty in pronouncing them. Stiff upper-lipped professors of Literature-in-Englishin Ivy League institutions are compelled to learn to pronounce Ibo names that are tough assignments even for fellow Nigerians. The book in focus is a letter to her friend, who has asked her advice on how to bring up her daughter to ensure she is a feminist, and, yes, her friend’s name is truly ‘Ijeawele’, as she explains to Trevor. ...


The other day, Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in conversation with South African celebrity comic and talk show host Trevor Noah on his program‘The Daily Show’.‘The Daily Show’ is watched by millions of people across America, as well as several countries of the world, including Nigeria. Trevor always makes it fun, with his risqué jokes. He has a thing about the President of the USA, Mr. Donald Trump. He dislikes his guts, and never misses any opportunity to take him down. He has been on his back since his days as Candidate Trump, when thesmart word out there was ...


The other day, Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in conversation with South African celebrity comic and talk show host Trevor Noah on his program‘The Daily Show’.‘The Daily Show’ is watched by millions of people across America, as well as several countries of the world, including Nigeria. Trevor always makes it fun, with his risqué jokes. He has a thing about the Presi...


Chimamanda Adichie