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Adichie, Soyinka, Gordimer Honoured in National Geographic’s Innovator’s Project

A portrait of Nadine Gordimer

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer have been named on the National Geographic’s list of Africa’s Greatest Innovators in Arts and Sciences, as part of the Innovator’s Project.

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Singer and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba also makes the list, which is completed by Samir Amin, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Louis B Leakey, Wangari Maathai and Babatunde Olatunji.

The list of innovators was compiled by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jnr, director of the WEB Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, which was established in 1975 with a mandate to assemble a “world-class team in Afro-American Studies”.

Gordimer, who turned 90 years old last November and announced her retirement from fiction writing recently, is included for her political writing, as well as her stoutly apolitical writing. However, the composition of the list does seem to reinforce Ben Okri’s recent comments on Books LIVE that African writers are “invisible” to the rest of the world if they are “just writing well”. In the context of Binyavanga Wainaina being named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People after publicly coming out as homosexual, Okri said: “Even if you write as well as Tolstoy you have to be seen in relation to causes, you have to be seen in relation to issues.”

By far the youngest on the list, Adichie is praised for her “brilliant storytelling skills”, but more specifically for her “penetrating discourse on what it means to be black and how views of identity differ between African Americans and American Africans”. National Geographic also mention the Nigerian author’s recent foray into “the realm of politics” with reference to her TED Talk on feminism, which was sampled by Beyonce; her outspoken stance on anti-homosexual legislation in her home country and her comments on the Boko Haram kidnapping crisis.

Read the Africa’s Greatest Innovators in Arts and Sciences biography of Gordimer:

Nadine Gordimer

This South African writer won the 1991 Nobel Prize in literature. The Nobel committee said that Gordimer, “through her magnificent epic writing, in the words of Alfred Nobel, ‘has been of very great benefit to humanity.’” A daughter of white, middle-class Jewish immigrants, Gordimer developed an early interest in racial and economic inequality in South Africa and wrote about this injustice in her books. In an interview with the Paris Review in 1980, however, she took pains to minimise the role of politics in her work and underscore that the larger goal of a writer is “to try to make sense of life. I think that’s what writing is.” Her works include The Soft Voice of the Serpent, a collection of short stories; The Lying Days; July’s People; and her most recent, No Time Like the Present. Gordimer was active in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress after it was banned.

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