In a new feature on The NewYorker, Larissa MacFarquhar profiles Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and takes us on an extensive journey of her life so far, referencing quotes from her books in an article titled: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Comes to Terms With Global Fame.
A part of the article talks about her rise from being an up and coming writer to established Bestselling author of Half of A Yellow Sun.
Since attaining great heights in her career, Chimamanda is admired as a Nigerian who has become an international celebrity, bringing renown to her country and a sense that now, for a Nigerian, anything is possible.
Read excerpts from the profile:
On her childhood days
As a child, Chimamanda had a kind of natural authority. Many girls wanted to be her friend, and in an effort to win her they would present her with their lunches, and she would eat them.
At the same time, she had episodes of depression—the beginnings of a disease that continues to afflict her—though she did not yet have a name for them.
“I was a popular child who had tons of friends and did well in school,” she says, “but then I would have moments where I didn’t want to see anybody, didn’t want to talk to anybody, cried for no reason, felt that I was bad and terrible, isolated myself.”
On being in a feminist marriage
Chimamanda had always imagined that she would marry someone flamboyantly unfamiliar—she pictured herself shocking the family by bringing home “a spiky-haired Mongolian-Sri-Lankan-Rwandan”—but the man she ended up marrying, in 2009, was almost comically suitable: a Nigerian doctor who practiced in America, whose father was a doctor and a friend of her parents, and whose sister was her sister’s close friend.
Before they had their daughter, she spent about half the year in Nigeria, and her husband would join her when he could. But her husband doesn’t want to be apart from the baby for too long, so now she lives most of the time in the U.S.
One of the perils of a feminist marriage is that the man actually wants to be there. He is so present and he does every damn thing! And the child adores him.
I swear to God, sometimes I look at her and say, I carried you for nine months, my breasts went down because of you, my belly is slack because of you, and now Papa comes home and you run off and ignore me. Really?
On her pregnancy and delivery journey
In Nigeria, when a woman in her family had a baby, all of her female relatives came to help and she lay in bed like a dying queen.
According to the renowned author, she loved the idea of that in some ways, but when she had her baby, in Maryland, she instructed her mother not to come for a month.
She realized afterward that she had internalized what she took to be an American notion, that having help with a newborn was something to be slightly ashamed of. You were supposed to do everything on your own, or else you weren’t properly bonding, or suffering enough, or something like that.
Right from the beginning, she found that she was consumed by anxiety. She seemed to have become a slightly different person—neurotic, on edge. She didn’t much like this version of herself, but she couldn’t help it. Even now that the child was two, when she slept, she checked to make sure that she was still breathing.
When she was younger, she wasn’t sure she wanted a child at all. She felt that since writing was the point of her existence, if she couldn’t write she might as well die, and she worried that she couldn’t both write and be a good mother.
She decided to chance it, but already during her pregnancy she began to see signs of trouble. At one point, she wasn’t getting anything done because her parents were visiting, and the house was full of workmen because she’d decided that since they were having a baby they needed to redo the kitchen, and not writing was driving her crazy, so she decided to go away for ten days just to work.
She planned to come back with the draft of a short story. She found stories punishing in a way that novels weren’t—in novels there was room to fail, room for bits that she didn’t like that much, but short stories were all pressure.
She checked into a hotel room in Annapolis and set up her computer, but then she spent the whole time sitting on the bed watching episode after episode of “Spiral,” a French police procedural, and eating chocolate cake.
On how she and her hubby joggle work with parenting their little girl
Once the baby came, finding the mental space to work became even more complicated. Working for her meant becoming wholly consumed by people who didn’t exist, which felt harder and more perverse when confronted by a baby who did.
She and her husband split the childcare fifty-fifty. After the birth, he took six months off work, and then he started working again, but only three days a week.
She was supposed to work on the days he stayed home, but often she found that she was so run down after her time on duty that she just fell asleep. Those days were exhausting.
“I’d take her to the playground, with what I call the Society of Stay-at-Home Mothers, who are all deeply good and pure and righteous, and their entire lives are about the well-being of their child, and I’m, like, Oh, Lord, I haven’t even read the damn news, I’m reading fiction only for thirty minutes before sleep, that’s not the person I am.”
On how she struggled with postpartum depression and overcame
Aside from not being able to write, the thing that had most worried her about having a baby was the immediate emotional aftermath.
Her doctor had told her that she was likely to suffer from postpartum depression, so she went online to find out how other women had coped.
Most of them seemed to advocate doing a lot of yoga, which was not at all what she wanted to hear. But in the end, after her child was born, she was fine.
She dreaded falling into that pit again. She knew that some people thought there was a link between depression and art, that it gave you insight or depth or something, but the idea that someone could write while depressed made no sense to her.
“I can’t even read. It’s a horrible, horrible thing. I can’t see my life, I’m blind. I feel myself sinking—that’s the word I use with my family and friends.See Also
Well, actually, I don’t talk about it with my family much, as lovely as they are, because they don’t really understand depression. They expect a reason, but I don’t have a reason.”
Nobody else in her family got depressed, and they thought she should keep it quiet—certainly not talk about it in public, as she felt she ought to do.
“There’s such a stigma attached to illness in general in this culture,” she says. “Nigerians will have cancer and they will hide it and lie about it.”
When she is in a depression, she sits for hours and watches films about the Holocaust. Her family tries to discourage her from doing this—it seems to them unlikely to be helpful—but she does it anyway.
“They somehow connect me to something about human beings. I don’t know. I just know that I have a connection to the story of the Holocaust. I find that I’m drawn to stories in which life is normal, and then it’s not, overnight.”
She isn’t trying to cure herself—to turn depression into happiness. That wouldn’t work anyway. She is, perhaps, trying to turn depression into bereavement: something that at least has meaning, a story with people in it, rather than a grim blank. She hates depression, but sadness is different.
“I think I’m addicted to a certain kind of nostalgia,” she says. “I watch these films and I find myself in a state of mourning for all the things that could have been.
They just make me cry and cry. I don’t know. All I know is that I will continue to watch them. I go on Netflix all the time to check, to see.”
On the right age to indoctrinate her daughter in feminism
If I tell her when she’s four, they don’t let women do that! will it do something to her?. You know that English word ‘chippy’—will she become one of those people who are called chippy?.
On how people handle her success
Ta-Nehisi Coates said to me once that what hurt him the most, becoming successful, was how much it was black intellectuals who seemed to be out for him, and I know what that’s like.
I told him that there’s a circle of Nigerians who are resentful of my international success, and it’s very hurtful because I want my people to wish me well.
On being African in America
There is a certain kind of black American that deeply resents an African whom they think of as privileged. Privileged Nigerians especially.
My husband and I have got to the airport and they’ve said to us, You’re Nigerian, I bet you have twenty-five thousand dollars in your bag, let’s see it.