Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke at the closing lecture at the PEN World Voices festival, and gave a riveting critique of ‘dangerous silencing’ in American conversation and Bring Back Our Girls narrative. Adichie spoke to a young crowd of writers and advised them to not go silent because that’s what the government wants.
“To choose to write is to reject silence,” Adichie stated.
Adichie also went on to criticize the use of social media and claims it’s also a tool of silencing voices.
Adichie identified social media as a contemporary “tool of silencing”. The Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which was focused around the abduction of 200 girls in Nigeria, the narrative had been forced to make out as if perpetrators Boko Haram were targeting girls, “so that we could say oh, it’s just like the Taliban,” said Adichie. But, she pointed out, Boko Haram is opposed to western style education for both girls and boys. “It is censorship to force a story to fit into something that already pre-exists,” she said.
Breaking silences, Adichie added, is not always easy. “I have often been told that I cannot speak on certain issues because I am young, and female, or, to use the disparaging Nigerian speak, because I am a ‘small girl’ … I have also been told that I should not speak because I am a fiction writer … But I am as much a citizen as I am a writer,” she said. It was as a citizen and writer that she spoke out against the recent criminalisation of homosexuality in her home country, a law that not only put the safety of many innocent civilians at risk, but also many of her friends.
Adichie concluded with an anecdote about her own teaching of a workshop in Lagos. A student complained that a story was not “teaching us anything”. At first Adichie dismissed him, but later she thought she had engaged in an “overprivileging of literature”. His question, “Does literature matter?” was an important one to her. “I would not want to live if I were not able to have the consolation that stories give me,” she concluded, “and for this reason I will stand and I will speak for the right of everyone, everyone, to tell his or her story.”
Before her speech ended Adichie also noted that she wants African stories to be told by African people.
“How are we ever going to really understand one another if we’re not being told stories in a way that is full and fully done?” she said to the crowd.
Image Credit: The Guardian/PEN World Voices Festival