We can’t get enough of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and when she speaks, we listen.
From the author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah, We Should All Be Feminists, The Thing Around Your Neck and Purple Hibiscus, we bring you 17 of the best quotes on storytelling, feminism and politics.
Prepare to bask in her awesomeness:
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1. On being a feminist:
For me, feminism is about justice. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world that is more just. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world where a woman is never told that she can or cannot or should or should not do anything because she is a woman. I want to live in a world where men and women are happier. Where they are not constrained by gender roles. I want to live in a world where men and women are truly equal. And that’s why I’m a feminist.
2. On the oppression of women:
I can’t not be angry. I don’t know how you can just be calm. My family says to me, “Oh, you’re such a man!” – you know, very lovingly … But of course I’m not, I just don’t see why I shouldn’t speak my mind.
3. On winning “Best of the Best” of The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction:
When you are writing you don’t know what is going to happen. You are alone in your study for months, for years. You write a book, you send it out to the world. It’s like sending out your child that you love, and not knowing if this child will be embraced by the world. So when it happens … For me this is a wondrous embrace, to be selected best of the best, and also because I think that the books that have won have been really remarkable books! I have a lot of respect for the books that not only have won the prize, but that have been shortlisted.
4. On Pope Francis:
Pope Francis inspires me. Not because of his much-touted humility — other popes who went along with papal pomp might merely have been tradition-compliant rather than lacking in humility — but because of his humanity.
5. In an interview with Zadie Smith, on writing strong female characters:
I hear from people, “Your female characters are so strong, how do you do that?”
For me, I’m writing about women who are familiar. Not to say that all the women I know are strong and have their shit together, they’re not. But to say that the idea of a woman being strong and simply being strong not to prove anything, or not to be unusual, is normal to me.
6. On makeup, gender injustice and privilege:
I wasn’t very interested in makeup until I was in my 20s, which is when I began to wear makeup. Because of a man. A loud, unpleasant man.
7. 13 quotes from Adichie’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture:
I’ve actually found that the older I get, the less interested I am in how the West sees Africa, and the more interested I am in how Africa sees itself.
8. On African writers:
I think the voices of the African diaspora are important too, but I think there’s often a silence in our voices from the continent.
The following quotes are excerpted from A Quotionary: The Ultimate Collection of Quotations About Writing and Writers, by Jenny Hobbs:
Language and style are very important to me. I am a keen admirer of good prose stylists and I can tell, right away, which writers pay attention to style. I care about the rhythm of a sentence. I care about word choice. I much respect poetic prose done well.
I just want to tell true stories.
When I start off I want to tell a story that I’m pleased with and that I hope somebody else will be connected to. I think by doing that one is challenging stereotypes, because the thing about stereotypes is that they’re not human, they’re not complex. So when you start to tell human and complex stories the hope is that people come away from those stories realising that the world is not just a single story. Our stories matter. Everybody’s story matters.
I’m such a believer in stories and how powerful stories are. Because stories are human and they draw you in; they’re not abstract arguments. In some ways it’s a safer space, so people who don’t necessarily agree with me politically can still get into that story.
The novels I love have an empathetic quality or emotional truth.
In the end I’m interested in what it means to be human. I think that’s what my writing is about: what it means to be a human being.
I always feel one step removed from everything. I’m always watching, looking for what I can mine for my fiction. I’m very curious about the world.
I am an unrepentant eavesdropper and a collector of stories. I record bits of overhead dialogue.
And one more from Goodreads:
Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.
Image courtesy of The Times
Die aanlyn gemeenskap LitNet het pas sy Afrikaanse woord van die jaar 2015 aangekondig.
Dis ‘n ongewone en verrassende keuse, maar volgens LitNet se redakteur, Etienne van Heerden, is dit ‘n woord wat die tydsgees stip vasvat.
Die wenwoord is #. Dis gekies uit woorde wat direk aan LitNet gestuur is, asook woorde ontvang van LitNet se Woord van die Jaar 2015-ondersteuners (die ATKV, die HAT, Taalkommissie, WAT en Netwerk24).
Maar is dit ‘n woord?
Ernst Kotzé, emeritus professor in Taalkunde aan die NMMU-universiteit verduidelik:
“‘n Mens kan die hutsteken (#) as ‘n logografiese woord beskryf wat, soos enige alfabetiese woord, in Afrikaans uitgespreek kan word, op watter wyse dan ook. Dit volg ook ‘n nuwe tradisie van woordtipes wat deur die gebruik van elektroniese teks ontstaan het, onder andere piktogramme, soos die emoji (“gesiggie met trane van vreugde”), wat deur Oxford Dictionaries in die VK as hulle woord van 2015 gekies is.”
Die voorsteller van # as LitNet se woord van die jaar 2015 is Lydia Potgieter. Sy wen R1 000 kontant.
# is gekies uit 15 woorde op LitNet se kortlys. Hierdie woorde is:
Van Heerden het Afrikaanssprekendes gevra om hul reg te hou vir LitNet se Woord van die Jaar 2016-kompetisie. “Wie weet wat lê vir ons voor, en watter woord die 2016-tydsgees gaan vasvang?” het hy gesê.
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Naomi Meyer, LitNet se inhoudsbestuurder, het op die uiteenlopende reaksies op die keuse van die Afrikaanse worrd van die jaar gereageer.
Lees haar artikel waarin sy verduidelik hoekom die # ‘n waardige wenner is:
Die # sorteer inligting. Sedert 2009 word die simbool op Twitter gebruik om idees onderling met mekaar te verbind. As jy vandag spog met jou prestasies onder die vaandel #feelingblessed, sal jou inskrywing hom bevind in die geselskap van ander mense wat ook hierdie selfde hutsmerk-emosie gebruik het.
Die # was vanjaar wêreldwyd ‘n simbool wat mense mobiliseer, opgeroep, saamgegroepeer en uitgesluit het. Dink maar aan #jesuischarlie, #rhodesmustfall, #openstellenbosch, #feesmustfall, en #zumamustfall.
By Ben Williams for the Sunday Times
If you happened to be visiting the Sorbonne in Paris in late October, you would have come across a conference on literature’s future in the digital age.
Africa was represented in the form of a single person: a white, middle-aged man originally from a small town in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. Namely, me.
I was there to discuss my theory of the “mobile griot”, which is about how African writers are using digital platforms like Facebook to create a new storytelling tradition that, oddly enough, relies on ephemerality for its permanence. Ja, my eyes glaze over, too.
But at the last moment I decided to talk about something else – something that had been weighing on my mind for months, but that I hadn’t quite put into words.
I worked all night in my hotel room in the fifth arrondissment. (Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, the final touches were being applied to a plan to attack the city. It makes me shudder.) Just as birds began to announce the Parisian dawn, I arrived at the crux of the matter: I would be talking about the end of South African literature.
Like many institutions today, our tradition of letters faces an existential crisis. The reason is because we who hold books dear have not properly addressed the rupture that happened when, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival in May, the novelist Thando Mgqolozana announced his disengagement with the White Literary System.
(In case you need a refresher on this system: with few exceptions, our publishers are white, our editors are white, our distributors are white and our booksellers are white, same as during the bad old days. )
There has been hand-wringing since, and a few critical discussions – plus welcome hints at new books initiatives – but fundamentally we remain where we were before Mgqolozana’s move.
That is, we remain with books – fiction and non-fiction alike – whose imaginative territory, what I call the “archive of democracy”, which includes the memory of colonialism and apartheid, is coupled to an untenable economic reality, which is that the books are, down to their last pages, and in spite of their internal brilliance, objects afloat in a sea of white privilege.
On the other hand, we have writers like Mgqolozana who have taken on the business of fostering black literary self-determination without money or infrastructure – indeed, with very little but words, and, crucially, the power that attaches to them. Writers who, in short, are trying to de-couple literary imagination from apartheid economics.
As a case in point, take the the Soweto Abantu Books Festival, a blacks-only event that happens each December. It’s wholly made up; it is a fiction; it exists only as a post on Facebook. But because of the political agency of the person who dreamed it – the excitement that simply saying it out loud it caused – the imagined festival is almost as destabilising to the establishment as a real one would be. It’s a glorious J’accuse.
In South Africa, then, the power of words is increasingly located outside of our books. And if we don’t talk more about this, if we don’t recognise the urgency of the decolonising project, help spur it on, and allow it to change us – we, the white publishers, distributors, booksellers and editors – then we’ll be left with ghost-books, published by money for those with it, whose contents are mere rumour, and Facebook posts as our new, collective imagination frontier.
Maybe my mobile griot theory has some jazz to it after all.
Either way, it’s the end of South African literature as we know it.
- Ben Williams is the outgoing Sunday Times books editor
- This column was published in tandem with Thando Mgqolozana’s new short story, “An Xmas wish: stay woke”
Zelda la Grange, former personal assistant to Nelson Mandela and author of Good Morning, Mr Mandela, recently presented a talk on standing up against racism at TEDxAmsterdam. Her book is also available in Afrikaans as Goeiemôre, mnr. Mandela.
In the video, La Grange tells the story of how she got the job in Mandela’s office. She only applied to work there because it was conveniently close to her family home. She says: “It was a bit of a dilemma for me. I didn’t see myself working for this new government because it was everything I opposed. But I thought ‘I’ll take a chance’.”
Two weeks into her new job, she says, she met “the man my people feared” – President Mandela. Being young and inexperienced, she “wanted to run away immediately”. But her learned fear and hatred of Mandela evaporated almost moments after meeting him.
Watch the video:
Read more about La Grange’s talk on the TEDxAmsterdam website:
“It is hard to overcome the damage of the past. It’s a long-term process. Just look at the aftermath of World War II or the reunification of Germany. This is 70 and 25 years ago – recent history. In Europe you can sense the scar tissue formed by these events. Our nation is still too young to present a shared history to the world. We are still too damaged and the scars of apartheid will take centuries to heal. One should never forget that history will judge what you do. History will teach us what is right and wrong, who was right and who was wrong. Today’s heroes can be tomorrow’s villains.”
Lauren Beukes was recently interviewed by Alex Segura for Pen America about her “enthralling and immersive fiction”.
Segura asks Beukes about how she came to write for a living, and where she writes. The author admits that she would like to “absorb” Jennifer Egan’s powers, by means of eating her brain if necessary.
Beukes says that she would like to have been a anti-apartheid activist because the enemy was simple – she wishes that “current social issues were as easily defined and that there was a clear path of resistance.” This leads into a discussion of the hardest thing she has ever had to write:
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words? Why does it stand out for you?
The most daring thing I’ve wanted to put into words was vetoed by my editor. I wanted to describe my terrified heroine’s heart thumping “like an avalanche of ponies.” I still like the metaphor. Can’t you just see it? The ponies tumbling down the scree, all clattering hooves and dust? But the hardest thing to write, which still upsets me and makes me sick and angry, was the essay I wrote, “All The Pretty Corpses,” about the murder of my cleaning lady’s daughter in 2010 and how I believed in the fairytale of justice until the moment in the prosecutor’s office when he told us he was going to have to throw the case out. It was devastating, and it has fed into how I write about violence—what it is, what it does to us, how we talk about it, what it means when we lose someone, how violence is shocking and contemptible, how we shouldn’t let this shit go.
Well-known journalist Andrew Donaldson sat down with Justice Malala recently to talk about his best-selling book We Have Now Begun Our Descent: How To Stop South Africa Losing Its Way.
Malala, who launched his book at The Book Lounge last month, shared his thoughts on, among other things, all the different protests that have been happening all year, in particular the #FeesMustFall movement, and the possibility of Jacob Zuma acknowledging that he has been at fault where policies are concerned. He also talks about next year’s local elections and speculations that there might be an EFF-DA coalition.
Read the fascinating article, in which Donaldson also reviews We Have Now Begun Our Descent:
When Malala and I meet at a Cape Town bookstore for our interview, the newspapers are full of reports of the #FeesMustFall protests and it prompts the question: Is our Tunisia Day upon us? Are we heading for an Arab Spring-type uprising?
“I think what’s happening with the students is a warning sign and a warning shot that we’ve put our head in the sand,” he says. “I think if we don’t listen and don’t act there’s going to be a big explosion in South Africa. The key difference – and people need to be very aware of this – the key difference between us and the Arab Spring is that people here still feel that there is a space for them to be heard.
“They still feel ‘I vote every five years and so I let off some steam.’
“But other than that, there’s high unemployment; lots of young people on the streets. If you look at the numbers that came out the other day, where three million young people, between 20 and 24, are unemployed. That situation is exactly like Tunisia.
“The higher you go up (in unemployment), past 25% to 26%, the closer you get to that scenario.”