“Call a lie a lie.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the responsibilities of writers

Congratulations to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on winning the PEN Pinter Prize, awarded to a writer who shows “the real truth of our lives and our societies.” The judges described her as “sophisticated beyond measure in her understanding of gender, race, and global inequality.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Image from bbc.com.

I haven’t read much of Adichie’s work, but I know she’s regarded by some as a first-class troublemaker. Just as she should be. She’s an almighty thorn in the side of the patriarchy, and in the side of homophobes everywhere, having spoken out about these issues. Besides her multi-award-winning novels, Adichie is also something of a youtube star. Her TED talks “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All be Feminists” have amassed millions of views.

Here are some excerpts from her acceptance speech at the British Library:

She said writers should feel no obligation to speak out on political issues, but she did not believe that art is “a valid reason for evading the responsibilities of citizenship – which are to think clearly, to remain informed, and, sometimes, to act and speak.”

“Art can illuminate politics. Art can humanize politics. Art can shine the light towards truth. But sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes politics must be engaged with as politics. And this could not be any truer or more urgent today, with the political landscapes of many western countries so blatantly awash in what Harold Pinter called ‘a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed’. We must know what is true. And we must call a lie a lie.”

“I do not want to use my art as an armor of neutrality behind which to hide. I am a writer and I am a citizen, and I see my speaking out on social issues as a responsibility of citizenship. I am struck by how often this speaking out is met, in Nigeria, not with genuine engagement, whether to agree or disagree, but with a desire to silence me. A journalist once helpfully summed it up for me: people don’t like it when you talk about feminism, they just want you to shut up and write.”

At the ceremony, Adichie honored lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as the 2018 International Writer of Courage. Abulkhair is a founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for criticizing the Saudi regime, inciting public opinion and insulting the judiciary.

Waleed Abulkhair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s