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Nigerian Author, Chimamanda Takes On Race And Hair In New Book

posted 8 May 2013, 06:11 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 May 2013, 06:12 ]

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been called "the most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature". She has just released a new book titled "Americanah", a story about a young Nigerian who returns home from the United States after 13 years. Chimamanda was recently in Lagos to launch the much anticipated book.

 LAGOSNIGERIA  (REUTERS) -  Walking through the streets of Lagos, award winning Nigerian author,Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie chats with her publicist on the way to her favourite hair salon.

Many of the chatter aroused by Chimamanda's latest book, "Americanah" seems to be preoccupied by discussions about African hair, what it means and how she has used it in the long awaited publication.

The book tells the story of love across three continents; two young teenagers who fall in love, are separated by events and re-united after 13 years of challenges and difficult choices in the countries they call home.

Chimamanda admits that the book does talk about hair, but it also explores race in a different way.

"I used the vehicle of a novel to talk about hair but it is not about hair in that sense, race, in some ways it is much more about race than it is about hair and race because I'm interested and also because I wanted to write the kind of novel about race that I wanted to read, I think a lot of contemporary fiction that deals with race is very watery, very unfocused, everybody has to be ambivalent, everything has to be ambiguous and grey and I wanted to do something a lot more pointed and honest," she said in an interview with Reuters.

With over five years dedicated to completing Americanah, the award winning author has churned out a story that cuts across time, events and places that residents in Nigeria can relate to.

Chimamanda's writing has made her a favourite for many at home and internationally. She recently launched Americanah in her native country and gave areading to over 100 guests who listened raptly to a powerful delivery of poetic descriptions, given by the author.

The week long Lagos book tour had Chimamanda address questions from eager fans across the state, curious about controversial issues highlighted in the book.

"We're still looking for validation across the atlantic, the idea somehow that a person like me would speak igbo (tribal language in Eastern Nigeria) properly is surprising, I think that's very telling, I think it's sad. There are a number of things, I think our education system isn't producing citizens, if I had my way I would change the curriculum and I would have young people learn a lot more civics and a lot more social studies because I think we need to teach people how to be citizens, we need to teach them, you need to teach pride, it's not just Maths and English, you need to teach pride, we need to teach you know just teach people how to be citizens of the nation and of course also there is a question of if people feel that there are opportunities for them, and they're less likely to think about leaving, I think there are lots of people who want to leave not because they necessarily don't want to live in Nigeria but because they think that leaving means having more opportunities and I guess we have a government that is not very keen on providing opportunities for its people," she said.

The writer previous novels; "Purple Hibiscus", won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2005 and 2004 respectively and "Half of a Yellow Sun", won the Orange Prize in 2007.

Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications.

Since the release of Americanah last month in the UK, thousands of copies have been sold worldwide with the numbers climbing.

"For us Nigerians, every Chimamanda book is an event unto itself, so we have been anticipating the release of this book because since Chimamanda made her grand entry in a manner of speaking into our literature, she took a spot that is very special and made that spot hers," said James Eze, who was at the Lagos launch.

Asked about the hair conversation that has dominated reviews and social media discourse around "Americanah", Chimamanda challenges black women to follow in her steps. The author who had at some point in her life cut her hair to grow it out - sharing the experience with Ifemelu, the main character in her new book, says African women need to be different in their hair choices.

"I just like my hair the way it grows from my head, that's really it, it's not and really I'm not trying to make a statement about anything, I'm not, you know, it's not about I'm being African or I'm being true, no, I just like it, I think it's quite beautiful, I like black hair the way it grows from our heads, I think it's very beautiful and I also think it's a shame that somehow we've chosen not to see the beauty in our hair and we, you know I think that idea of a mainstream beauty being something that's not us, I just, I want to challenge that," she said.

Chimamanda was born in Nigeria, leaving at 19 to further her studies in the United States.

She says she is happy dividing her time between Nigeria and the US as it is important for her to leave her home country when she wants to, in order to clear her head.