At Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall on Thursday afternoon, March 16, the room was packed. The guest speaker was acclaimed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, known for her books “Purple Hibiscus” and “Americanah.” She recently wrote a small book, “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” published earlier this year.
Despite the myriad attendees who came to catch a glimpse of the Nigerian author and hear her talk, the conversation between her and Paul Elie, moderator of GU’s Faith & Culture series, felt very intimate — as though you, and only you, were privy to this conversation.
This isn’t Adichie’s first visit to the university; she also spoke there in 2014.
The larger public knows her to be a talented writer, but this talk gave fans the chance to hear her discuss what matters to her as a human being: how she grew up Catholic, feminism and her love, from an early age, of writing fiction.
When it comes to her Catholic upbringing, she spoke about how tribal religious identity is in Nigeria, even among Nigerian Christians, forming deep differences between people of the same nationality. For Adichie, however, growing up Catholic was a mostly joyful experience. She loved Mass and enjoyed hearing the Latin language being used (which she didn’t understand). She also tried to find ways to assert Catholicism’s superiority over Protestant Christianity, including the Anglican faith.
Experiencing Catholicism in the United States was different from what she was used to. She found it to be more a political experience than a religious one. She said that she had left the Catholic Church, but attended Mass recently.
Adichie also spoke about what feminism means to her, saying that it is not a concept, but a way of life. She looked back to one of her great-grandmothers, who was known as a troublemaker in Nigeria because she claimed that the land she worked on — which Nigerian culture traditionally passes on to the husband’s family when the husband dies — belonged to her.
She said that making the choice of publicly becoming a feminist is one that attracts hostility and often negates the other parts of the public feminist.
Adichie also spoke about her writing journey, about how she was writing since she was old enough to spell. She explained that, in her writing, what she found to work is writing about what is true to her and not trying to write what is commonly published.
“I write what I care about,” she said.
The conversation ended with a Q&A. The last questioner relayed a message from a person who couldn’t be at the event, but accused Adichie of being “transphobic.” Adichie responded that the experiences of women who are born as women and people who weren’t born as women, but decide to become women, are two different sets of experience. Her response was met with applause.