Many years ago, I discovered an online writing hangout called Zoetrope. It was part of Francis Ford Coppola’s umbrella that included the fine literary mag, All Story. Zoetrope attracted many serious amateur writers, and we read each others’ work and critiqued them earnestly. Many short stories and several novels began here, and I suspect, many Zoetropers found their footing and some confidence too right here. Perhaps the most famous of Zoetropes writers is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She workshopped a story on Zoetrope that was picked up by another writer who ran an online literary magazine. And from there, she found a publisher for what would be her first novel, Purple Hibiscus.

Chimamanda followed that up with Half of a Yellow Sun. Both novels are remarkable for many reasons, not least because of the excellent writing. I find Chimamanda Adichie to be a supremely relevant author for she writes in a voice thats contemporary without losing depth. She writes of Nigeria and Nigerians, her country and her people. But she’s also writing of the larger canvas and of finding ones place in it. And no, she really cannot be slotted as an author who writes on race and feminism; Chimamanda Adichie is much more than that.

In 2011, she was to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival. But tickets were expensive and one heard of tens of thousands of people who were expected to land up to listen to a fantastic line up of authors. It was going to be a literary rockshow, somewhat nightmarish for the crowdphobic. That’s when I stumbled upon a much smaller Galle Literary Festival that was going to take place in southern Sri Lanka and which was going to feature, among others, Chimamanda Adichie. Galle is a former Dutch port that was still recovering from the tsunami at that time. The festival took place within the old town walled in by an old fort, in a quaint neighbourhood with cobbled streets, old houses and tiny terrace cafes serving beer and Sri Lankan food. Chimamanda arrived for her author talk, wearing a sari and with her hair in braids. She read from Half of a Yellow Sun and spoke articulately about the civil war in Nigeria, something the mainly Sri Lankan audience could relate to readily.

Her latest novel, Americanah, continues in the same vein as her earlier books but leaving Nigeria for most parts, as its protagonist Ifemelu enrols in university in America. Race is a big part of the novel but it’s also about those who begin their lives, even in Nigeria, as young people with some privileges (eating cornflakes for breakfast) pursuing education as an average urban kid anywhere in the world would. It’s about wanting something more after a childhood spent in the developing world, thinking real lives were happening outside, about wanting something more not because of poverty and oppression but that indefinable thirst we possess as humans. Chimamanda manages to make Ifemelus story about all of this. She writes with compassion and clarity; its a riveting read, a great story but also more than just another story.

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