Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on feminism, storytelling, and handbags
July 8, 2018 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Last month, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the keynote address at the Chatham House London Conference 2018 (slyt; 25 minutes). “I think men should read more stories by and about women. We know from studies that men read men, and women read men and women. Perhaps if men read more women’s stories, they would be more likely to see them as fully human and less likely to see them as objects that exist for the needs of men...Storytelling is the breath and final spirit of all knowledge."

Chatham House is formally is known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

No transcript that I can find, but here are a few highlights.
posted by MonkeyToes (15 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
In case Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's name sounds familiar, she got into a kerfuffle about some things she said about trans women in 2017. This Vox article is a reasonable narrative of that situation, should folks be interested.

Regarding this link and post, I agree: Men should definitely read more stories by and about women, and I recommend starting with authors like Octavia Butler and Roxane Gay and Samantha Irby (and Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou).
posted by kalessin at 9:47 PM on July 8, 2018 [9 favorites]


A couple of years ago I realized that the vast majority of books I read were by men. Since then I have deliberately sought out books by women. I still read a decent number of books by men, because most of the books that "fall into" my to-read list are by men (due to gifts, old favourite authors releasing new books, finally getting around to reading that old classic, etc.) but books by men are now well under 50%.

It's been a good change. Books by women have a slightly different feel, though I struggle to characterize exactly how... other than books by women have fewer lists in them.

Some favourites:
- "A Little Life", Hanya Yanihagara
- "Fates and Furies", Lauren Groff
- Wayfarer series, Becky Chambers
- "Bel Canto", Ann Patchett
- "The Time Traveller's Wife", Audrey Niffenegger
- "The Last Samurai", Helen DeWitt

And I'm currently halfway through "Pachinko" by Min Jin Lee, which is also good.
posted by nnethercote at 1:15 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


While I'm here, I'd love to hear yes/no/maybe/something-else recommendations about my current "to maybe read" list:
- "Florida" - Lauren Groff
- "Some Trick" - Helen DeWitt
- "Bad Feminist" - Roxane Gay
- "Too Like the Lightning" - Ada Palmer
- "Station Eleven" - Emily St John Mandel
- "Semiosis" - Sue Burke
- "Murderbot Diaries" - Martha Wells
- "Autonomous" - Annalee Newitz
- "The Group" - Mary McCarthy
- "River of Teeth" - Sarah Gailey
- "The Family Tree" - Sherri Tepper
- "Black Wolves" - Kate Elliott
- "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" - Karen Joy Fowler
- "The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" - Meg Elison
- "Shards of Honor" - Lois McMaster Bujold
- "Among Others" - Jo Walton
- "City of Illusions" - Le Guin
- "Lightless" - C A Higgins
- Something by Elizabeth Moon?
posted by nnethercote at 1:27 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


My experience has been similar to nnethercote's in that I recently (about three years ago) made a deliberate policy of reading at least 50% books by women authors. Before that my bookshelves - especially the fiction parts thereof - had been dominated by male authors. Of course it only needed to be a deliberate policy for a very short time before I found numerous new-to-me authors I loved and wanted to spend more time with, after which it became second nature. I suspect it was reading women's points-of-view and experiences through this very website that gradually nudged me awake to some of the previously-unexamined sexism I'd been carrying around such as had been reflected in my reading habits.
posted by misteraitch at 1:45 AM on July 9, 2018


Mind you, reading women can be dangerous. I once was drawn reluctantly into a bar argument that seemed teetering on a bar fight because I was discovered sitting in my usual spot reading The Faber Book of 20th Century Women's Poetry (edited by Fleur Adcock, who, by the way, wrote one of the best pieces in the book: The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers).
posted by pracowity at 2:59 AM on July 9, 2018


I love Chimamanda Adichie's writing, but I think she's fallen victim to what she spoke about as The Danger of a Single Story. Why bother engaging with other Nigerian writers or Women Authors or African Women Authors when Chimamanda Adichie ticks so many of those boxes? I think when she's the main voice of African Women's Literature it's easy to get derailed by ways that she is problematic. One person can't be all things to all people, and one person with their flaws on display and nobody to take up the slack has very little room to reflect and grow in private.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:27 AM on July 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


> "While I'm here, I'd love to hear yes/no/maybe/something-else recommendations about my current 'to maybe read' list:"

> "'Station Eleven' - Emily St John Mandel"

Yes.

> "'Murderbot Diaries' - Martha Wells"

Yes.

- "'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' - Karen Joy Fowler"

Yes.

- "'Shards of Honor' - Lois McMaster Bujold"

Yes.

- "'Among Others' - Jo Walton"

Not actually the Walton I would start with, if you haven't read her before. I'd go with "Ha'penny" if you want something dark, and "Tooth and Claw" if you want something light and funny. If you dig her stuff, read "Among Others" afterwards.

- "'City of Illusions' - Le Guin"

Not actually the Le Guin I would start with, if you haven't read her before. There's several that I'd suggest going with first -- "The Dispossessed" and "The Left Hand of Darkness" especially, and "The Lathe of Heaven" if you're in the mood for something on the shorter side.

- Something by Elizabeth Moon?

I quite liked The Deed of Paksennarion.
posted by kyrademon at 6:58 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think when she's the main voice of African Women's Literature it's easy to get derailed by ways that she is problematic. One person can't be all things to all people, and one person with their flaws on display and nobody to take up the slack has very little room to reflect and grow in private.

That is addressed to some extent in this recent profile of her in the New Yorker, which I enjoyed because it gave her some space to be prickly and imperfect and human.
posted by desuetude at 7:16 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


This seems like an opportunity to plug Persephone Books and also Rachel Syme's list of 150 memoirs and biographies of women, by women.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:46 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


> "'Murderbot Diaries' - Martha Wells"

Yes.

- "'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' - Karen Joy Fowler"

Yes.

- "'Shards of Honor' - Lois McMaster Bujold"

Yes.
I'll second all of these. I had a bit of a hard time getting into "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" because I disliked the narrator quite a lot at the beginning, but it paid off.
posted by asterix at 9:47 AM on July 9, 2018


I'm going to second starting Jo Walton at 'Among Others'. I think it's by far the most accessible of her works for a general (non-sf-literate) audience. It's the book by her that suggested to my book group, for example.
posted by bq at 11:58 AM on July 9, 2018


In case Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's name sounds familiar, she got into a kerfuffle about some things she said about trans women in 2017.

Also because her voice was featured on Beyoncé's song ***Flawless, saying (among other things):
We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
"You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten a man
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:00 PM on July 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


kyrademon, asterix, bq: Thank you for the suggestions!

Not actually the Le Guin I would start with, if you haven't read her before

Don't worry, I've read plenty of Le Guin, which is why I'm now up to her less well known books.
posted by nnethercote at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2018


In case Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's name sounds familiar, she got into a kerfuffle about some things she said about trans women in 2017.

What a bizarre comment. It's much more likely her name sounds familiar because, as the Vox article you link says in its first line, she is "a literary sensation known the world over for her beautiful prose and complex, lively characters."
posted by armadillo1224 at 9:23 PM on July 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


I struggled with whether or not to mention it. But I'm trans so that's how I came to know of her first, unfortunately.
posted by kalessin at 6:13 AM on July 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


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