Influencing others through creativity
The acclaimed Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was awarded an honorary degree at the University in August.
Proposing Chimamanda for the award of the degree, Dr Barbara Bompani, Director of the Centre of African Studies said there are many stories of the influence that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work has had on the lives, thoughts and creativity of others.
Through her writing, her advocacy, and her public engagement, she inspires all of us to better understand our own, and other peoples’ stories.
Chimamanda received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at the University’s recently redeveloped St Cecilia’s Hall - Scotland’s oldest concert hall.
The award, presented by Principal and Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, was in recognition of Chimamanda's achievements as an author and public intellectual.
Chimamanda is also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship – a five-year grant awarded to individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work, and have the potential to demonstrate more in the future.
She is one of the world’s most prominent contemporary writers, dividing her time between the United States and her native Nigeria. She is the author of three award-winning novels, Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah, and a short story collection The Thing around Your Neck.
Her most recent title, Dear Ijeawale, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, takes the form of a series of letters from the author to a friend about feminism and motherhood.
A dream of feminism
Accepting her degree, Chimanda gave an inspirational speech in which she expressed some of her thoughts and hopes in a way that recalled the language of Martin Luther King:
"I think that feminism is a fundamental issue of human rights, and I feel very strongly about how important it is that we that we try to take away the negative stereotypes attached to feminism, so I dream of a world in which we all collectively start to deconstruct masculinity.
I dream of a world in which we we tell little boys that it's okay to cry that they should cry; that we give little boys the language to talk about emotions.
I dream of a world in which women are no longer perceived to be a species of angels. We shouldn't have higher standards for women. We shouldn't assume that because the person is born a woman that person somehow is just one step lower than angel.
I find it quite dehumanising for women because what it means is that women cannot be judged on the same terms as men.
I think that the idea of women being a species of angels is bad for both women and for men."
I dream of a world in which we we tell little boys that it's okay to cry
During her visit the author met a group of students from the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program which supports the brightest and best African scholars, ensuring access to education for young leaders who have a personal commitment to changing the world around them and improving the lives of others.
Following the presentation, Chimamanda was interviewed about her work and ideas by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at an event at Edinburgh International Book Festival in association with the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University.
I start a book and I have an idea of what I want to do but I never quite know where it's going, and and for me that's the pleasure - because if I if I knew the endings of my books then I wouldn't want to write them. For me, the journey is the pleasure, and when it's going well it makes me so happy - I feel transported
The First Minister, who is an avowed fan and admirer of the author, asked her about her influences, and the inspirations and sources for her characters and stories. An enthusiastic audience was treated to a wide-ranging, insightful and humerous conversation that took in race, politics, gender, identity, mental health, growing up in Nigeria, and the pros and cons of growing older.
Chimamanda - full acceptance speech
Edinburgh International Book Festival
The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program
Images © Neil Hanna Photography