CHIMAMANDA Ngozi Adichie arrived on stage to a rock star’s reception, and her reaction set the tone for an utterly absorbing hour. She drank in the cheers and applause with a warm smile and without a hint of self-consciousness.
Her actions – accepting praise without a cringe, engaging with an 11-year-old girl without talking down – were almost as inspiring as her words.
She confessed at the start that an invitation to speak at Edinburgh International Book Festival was not in itself enough to lure her away from her writing work … but the promise of Nicola Sturgeon as event chair sealed the deal. “I’m a fangirl,” she said with a twinkle.
Sturgeon briefly answered a couple of her questions about being a woman in politics, but the First Minister was strict about sticking to her role as interviewer. She did speak of becoming self-censoring once she learned how the media could take snippets out of context, and I wondered if she felt a nervous pang when Adichie told the audience they’d been discussing shoes, and declared this just as important as a conversation about Brexit.
She explained that We Should All Be Feminists, the 2012 TED talk that became a global sensation, was not inspired by any seminal feminist texts, as she hadn’t read them (and still hasn’t managed to finish all of those she’s started). Instead it was based on her own observations and thinking about the world. It was brilliant and bold, but then Adichie was not raised to doubt her own abilities – a Nigerian breakfast is washed down with a cup of arrogance, she quipped.
In an hour that covered writing about history, race relations in contemporary America, and the liberation of both men and women, the pair kept returning to politics, and in particular the fact that female politicians are damned if they show emotion and damned if they don’t. Adichie also highlighted the false assumption that women are innately morally better than men, and the harsher judgement that follows if they fail to live up to expectations. Progress will come, she said, when men get over their preoccupation with measuring a certain part of their anatomy. Sturgeon, and everyone else in the room, most definitely agreed.
A version of this review first appeared in The National.