If recent events are anything to go by, it would seem Adichie cannot grant an interview without courting controversy alongside. Her words have seemingly taken a combustible quality and lights affront in all concerned and related whether directly or otherwise.
Months ago, in one of the innumerable interviews granted on the back of promoting her latest work, Americanah, Adichie was quoted (or misquoted depending on you who ask) as saying women who wore artificial weaves lacked self-confidence. The fall-out was perhaps predictable. Such is the number of women who are indicted by Adichie’s unsavoury comment. Social media was awash with vitriolic and level-headed comments, in equal measure, taking Adichie to task on the said comment. Women from Lagos to Port Harcourt with access to an internet-connected device gave their two cents and then some. Some are still reeling and may never forgive the author. And now, this… albeit of a different texture.
Adichie granted an interview to American publication, Boston Review via Aaron Bady, which had all the trappings of the interviews she has granted since Americanah was published, filled with questions about race, her experience of it, how much of herself is reechoed in her lead character, Ifemelu. Fifteen questions on and lengthy, trademark-intelligent Adichie answers later, the interview train was rolling on jolly well to the average reader. And then, the wreck. The interlocutor asked of the author, her thoughts on the Caine Prize. “But what’s all this over-privileging of the Caine Prize, anyway?”she replied. “I don’t want to talk about the Caine Prize, really. I suppose it’s a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been…But I haven’t even read the stories—I’m just not very interested. I don’t go the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction,’’ she said.
The interlocutor prodded. ‘’Where do you go?”
“I go to my mailbox, where my workshop people send me their stories. I could give you a list of 10—mostly in Nigeria—writers who I think are very good. They’re not on the Caine Prize short list.’’
As if this faux pas wasn’t enough, Adichie had more. Asked if there were writers she could brag about, products of her writing workshop, she had this to say, ‘’Elnathan was one of my boys in my workshop…I feel like a very proud mama about all of my children, I try very hard to love them all equally…’’
Expectedly, there was another fall-out. Especially riled were two writers Abubakar A. Ibrahim and Elnathan John, both of which are Caine Prize-nominated and were perhaps justifiably none too pleased with Adichie’s comment. Ibrahim took to his Twitter page and said “I suppose now every Nigerian writer to be taken seriously has to have a presence in godmother Adichie’s inbox…’’ John, on the other hand took to his blog and wrote a piece regarding this comment, that dripped, like a waterfall would, with sarcasm. A piece whose brilliance this reporter dares say Adichie would tip her hat to, were she not the subject of its thinly veiled contempt. John even recounted a “man-shrinking email” Adichie had once sent to him previously.
To me, the comments are not as bad as they are being made out to seem but the lack of tact and diplomacy on Adichie’s part is rather surprising for a woman of her intelligence.
Firstly, Adichie is well within her rights to say what she feels about the Caine Prize, as is everyone else for that matter. Her comments are not exactly unheard of either. A number of recognised writers, African literary magazines, social commentators have berated the Prize for the kind of “African” stories it accepts and celebrates and have proclaimed that one should be wary of non-African platforms that promote African prizes. Media entrepreneur, Funmi Iyanda said as much after the news broke via her Twitter page. She called the prize, “reductive”. However, was there a better, more diplomatic way Adichie could have framed her opinion? Definitely. She must realise the position she holds in literary circles and how much weight her words carry now.
Secondly, while Adichie can say she doesn’t look for the best fiction in Africa on the Caine Prize, saying she finds it instead in her mailbox reeks of hubris. It reads as though she has anointed herself a body that adjudges what constitutes the best fiction in Africa. Whether she is in her right of place to do this is not a topic I would like to broach but this may be one of those situations when you know or feel something is of a truth but it is quite unbecoming to say it out loud.
Thirdly, calling a full-grown man/author “my boy” is quite emasculating and has condescension tattooed all over it. I believe this may not have been Adichie’s intention but she should know better. She has once been quoted as saying she takes painstaking effort to craft good sentences in her book and one has to wonder why that dutiful sense failed her this time to craft an appropriate sentence – something I discovered she holds others to. Molara Wood, a writer, journalist, author and former Arts/Culture Editor of the now defunct NEXT newspapers recounted an experience with Adichie via her Twitter page. ‘’Ms. Adichie graced the cover of the 16-page supplement I edited…On one of the covers I wrote a banner along the lines ‘The Glamour Girl of Nigerian Writing’, Myself and my team meant it as a compliment but the author did not share that view…Ms Adichie lodged a complaint directly with my bosses at NEXT…the author objected to the use of the word ‘Girl’ as she was now over 30…’’
One must ask Adichie this question, “Hypocritical much?”
Also, the author saying she feels like a “proud mama” to her workshop attendees hit a sore point with some commenters on the interview. Many felt it was quite an inelegant statement, devoid of any social grace. How dare she say a mother-child relationship exists between her and her workshop attendees was the unspoken question. Two commenters even made comparisons to the late Chinua Achebe. One, Mogbekeloluwa, in a comment on the interview on the Boston Review website said, ‘’Chimamanda is a great writer and a role model for many, but even Achebe sometimes refused the tag of ‘father’.’’ The second, Abubakar Ibrahim, previously mentioned, opined, ‘’A whole generation of writers owe their fame to Achebe and yet he was never conceit in this obnoxious fashion.’’
Whatever then shall Adichie do? Should she abstain from interviews for the time being or if she must grant one have her publicity apparel at the ready to forestall or at least dilute her perhaps unwittingly uttered comments? Should she clear the air, make plain what she meant when she uttered the aforementioned comments? I hazards that Adichie is unlikely to do any of the three but I’m hoping for a surprise. I wait and watch…