Prize-winning writer Chimamanda Adichie‘s work has captured the hearts of critics since her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, debuted in 2003. Since then, Adichie’s been recognized as a MacArthur Genius and feminist icon, with her powerful 2013 TEDx talk We Should All Be Feminists sampled in Beyonce’s “Flawless” and made into a pamphlet given to every 16-year-old in Sweden.

On the importance of reading to learn, Adichie says:

“I’m a believer in reading, to see the wide range of what’s been written. I’m also a believer in reading what you dislike at least once, just to know. I often say to my students, ‘I’m going to have you read something I don’t like.’ I don’t like cold fiction. I don’t like fiction that is an experiment. I find that often it’s the boys in the class who love the fiction I don’t like. I say to them, ‘I’ll tell you why I don’t like it. And, then, if you like it, I want you to tell me why.’ Most of all I believe in reading for what you can learn in terms of not just craft and technique but worldview. It’s important to think about sentences and how one develops character and all of that, but also to think about what the story is as a big thing.”

Sharing a short list of her personal favorite works of fiction with O Magazine in 2014, Adichie wrote:

“It would be impossible to write honestly about the books that matter most to me, because since I fell in love with words at the age of 6, many have mattered to me greatly, and different ones have taken on more or less significance at different times. So I thought I would write about the five that easily come to mind today, knowing that there are perhaps 50 more that could just as easily have been included.”

Read on for 5 books that made a difference to Chimamanda Adichie, and complement with her TEDx speech, We Should All Be Feminists.


Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

“Before I read Achebe as a child in Nigeria, I read only foreign children’s books, and so I wrote about the same things I was reading – all my characters were White and the stories were set in England or a generic Westernised country. I had not read books that featured people like me, so I thought that books couldn’t include people like me. Until I discovered Achebe. I didn’t realise it at the time, of course – I was too young to be consciously aware of that sort of thing – but later I would realise that reading Achebe was a turning point. It made me see that it was, in fact, possible for people of colour to exist within literature. Arrow of God has remained one of my favourite novels. Set in 1920s Igboland, it tells the story of a remarkable priest, Ezeulu, and a British administrator, and the ways in which colonialism brought not only political but cultural changes. It is funny and absorbing, moving and beautiful. I love this book.” -CA

Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown

“I have always been drawn to fiction that is written in sublime language and looks at the world through a romantic-realist lens, and this book does just that. It is the story of a White family in New Orleans, in the American South, and their Black servant; a story of race and love and family and dreams. It is filled with longing, melancholy and nostalgia, and it is so atmospheric, so hauntingly described, that the reader never quite emerges from the book.” -CA

Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals by Ahmadou Kourouma

“This is a humourous, irreverent and unabashedly political novel; it is an enraged lament about post-colonial Africa and how the leaders who inherited supposedly independent countries went on to fail their citizens. Some leaders are closely modelled on real characters – Mobutu of Zaire and Lumumba of the Congo are impossible to miss. The simplified summary of Kourouma: Colonialism has spawned monsters in the name of African leaders, and the West is the creator of these Frankensteins. The narrative is complex. There is a wonderfully oral quality to the telling, and many stories and anecdotes are laugh-aloud funny. Kourouma insists – and this underlies the narrative – that African dictators are mostly guided by their belief in the traditional, the supernatural, and that Islam or Christianity are mere window-dressing. This is a good example of an intelligent and important book that’s also genuinely interesting.” -CA

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

“Turgenev said that he could not ‘sweeten his characters with syrup,’ that he had to tell the truth, even at the expense of his own sympathies. I loved this book as a teenager and have never forgotten how completely absorbed I was by Turgenev’s wonderfully evocative world.” -CA

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (also rec’d by Emma Watson, Gabrielle UnionGloria Steinem)

“I admired the fierce honesty in the single-mindedly feminist world-view of this book. It breaks many of the ‘rules’ of fiction. Walker comes close to painting all the men in a simplistic shade of ‘bad,’ although she attempts to give the nameless husband of Celie some redemption in the end. But the reader senses that a greater truth is at stake; that this was a story that needed to be told. I liked how Celie becomes strong with the love of Shug. And how Sofia is amazingly resilient but is punished for sassing the mayor, and later has to go and work for the mayor’s wife. I applauded Celie’s sexual awakening. And, most of all, I liked the idea that God gets angry if we walk past a field with the colour purple and don’t notice it.” -CA

(via O Magazine)


Books by Chimamanda Adichie

Purple Hibiscus (2003)

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

The Thing Around Your Neck (2009)

Americanah (2013 – rec’d by Gabrielle Union)

We Should All Be Feminists (2014)

Categories: Activists Writers

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