Updated: Oct 28, 2021
By: Faith Brammer
Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a native of Nigeria, has vivid memories of coming to America to study communications at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was eager, ambitious, and ready to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. In the face of all her excitement, nineteen-year-old Adichie was confronted with what it meant to exist as a Black African in Mid-Western America as soon as she set foot on campus. There was a high level of adjustment to be made for Adichie as she found her footing at her new school. In an interview with Terry Ross, she describes a time when a student said something about watermelon to an African American student, who was offended by the remark.
"I remember sitting there thinking, 'But what's so bad about watermelons? Because I quite like watermelons,” Adichie reflects.
Being raised in Nigeria, Adichie was unfamiliar with the deeply rooted race conflicts ingrained in American culture. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was not taught in Adichie’s schools growing up, so she entered American culture without context of the racial prejudices she experienced or observed, sometimes unknowingly. She explains that she had to learn what it meant to be Black in America, which is the focus of her 2013 novel Americanah.
On Being Black in America
"I think that one is not burdened by America's terrible racial history, and I think when people say to me, 'You're different. You're not angry,' in some ways it also feels that I'm being made complicit for something that I don't want to be complicit in.”
Adichie doesn’t consider herself an activist, but she does consider herself a storyteller and dreamer. However, she says that there are some things in this world that ignite such a rage inside her, that she feels called to make a difference with the only way she knows how-- words. She writes from her heart, weaving narratives that engage with the experiences of being Black in America and the deeply rooted inequality present.
Adichie has since made a name for herself as an award-winning author, been featured in Beyonce’s Flawless music video, and has interviewed first lady Michelle Obama about her memoir, Becoming. Her TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time. Her works have been translated into over thirty different languages and her 2006 novel Half A Yellow Sun, which centers around the Biafran War, was adapted to the screen in 2013. She spends her time between the cities of Lagos and Washington D.C., merging the two cultures as parts of her identity. In an interview with The Africa Report, Adichie explains how she holds tight to her Nigerian heritage while still embracing American ideas.
When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement by DW Akademie, Adichie mused that,
“At least the American left is willing now to really engage with racism. The protests have forced the conversation and forced the shift to something more tangible, forced actions. It felt like a real, raw movement. I felt like young Black people were letting the pain out.”
On Identifying with Her Heritage
“I don’t represent Nigeria; there are things about Nigeria I don’t like, but at the same time I am very very proud of my Nigerian identity. I was born and raised in Nigeria, which I didn’t leave until I was 19. I’m proud to be Nigerian, I’m proud to be African, I’m proud to be Igbo. I would not be who I am today if I wasn’t all of those things. So, it’s very important to me.”
Adichie identifies as a writer before all else, but she doesn’t shy away from making her voice heard in the realms of politics and social justice. Her primer on feminism, We Should All Be Feminists, was a worldwide phenomenon, igniting a conversation about what it truly meant to be a feminist. Adichie states that feminism is traditionally “un-African”, as it contradicts ultra traditional views held by many people in Nigeria. She says that Nigerian women are often raised not to intimidate men--she’s proud to be a spark that ignited a conversation which challenged those ideals.
On Being a Feminist Writer
“I’ve been a feminist since even before I knew what the word meant: as a little girl I was always asking questions: ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ‘Because you’re a girl.’ ...But I started talking about it because my literature gave me a platform...now people think I have all the answers to gender problems. I haven’t – but I want to try to make a change.”
While she doesn’t consider herself a feminist writer, Adichie proclaims that she has a very feminist outlook on life, so it’s impossible for that not to seep into her writing. Adichie holds a cautious hope for a better future, for a better America in the years to come. She refers to herself as a “pessimistic optimist”, striving to see the best in situations she knows are bleak. Promise lies on the horizon and Adichie is helping to pave the way towards a more equitable future, one word at a time.
Allardice, Lisa. “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 'America under Trump Felt like a Personal Loss'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Nov. 2020,
Juompan-Yakam, Clarisse. “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Talks Colonialism, Politics and Pop Culture.” TheAfricaReport.com, The Africa Report, 8 May 2020,
Ross, Terry. “'Americanah' Author Explains 'Learning' To Be Black In The U.S.” NPR, NPR, 7 Mar. 2014.
Sommer, Ulrike. “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Politics, Human Rights and Storytelling: DW: 16.09.2019.” DW.COM, DW Akademie , 16 Sept. 2019,