Chimamanda Adichie Visits Pomona

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came to Pomona College Oct. 1,
engaging in a live online discussion with President David Oxtoby, visiting an
International Student Mentorship Program (ISMP) masterclass on cultural and
racial differences and speaking in Bridges Auditorium. The free event, which
was hosted on Nigeria’s 54th independence day, was
co-sponsored by the Eyes on Africa Initiative and Pomona College’s
Distinguished Speakers Series.

Born and
raised in Nigeria, Adichie has written a number of award-winning literary works,
including Americanah, a powerful
story of race and identity that was selected as Pomona’s summer reading for the
class of 2018. Americanah won the
National Book Critics Circle Award and made the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2011 list. Penn State, Duke University and Macalester College also selected the novel for first-years to read, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Pomona first-years
were not the only people anxious to get their hands on a copy on the celebrated novel, however. More than 500 copies of Americanah
were distributed to the Pomona student body, faculty and staff before
the start of this year’s summer break. 

spent the beginning of the semester discussing various literary, racial and political aspects of the
novel with their peers and professors, both during formally scheduled
seminars and in personal conversations. ISMP Head Sponsor Elena Cardenas PO ’16
appreciated how Americanah allowed students to relate their experiences to those presented in the novel.

“The book highlights the importance of programs like ISMP
and [International] Place because now it’s easier for me to see that a lot of
students have difficulty adapting to the U.S.,” she said. “For some students Americanah was a very valuable book
because it reflects the experiences of their parents as immigrants.”

Michaela Ince PO ’18 is one such student. She found the
concept of race found throughout Adichie’s works personally relatable as she
grew up in a country with a black majority.

Adichie talk about her personal experience of being black in Nigeria and being black in the U.S. was engaging, and I developed a greater understanding of the
emotions Ifemelu and Obinze might have felt in the novel,” Ince said. 

talk was much anticipated all around the Claremont Colleges. The moment doors
opened, the crowd of excited readers clamored into Big Bridges. Some members of
the audience had been waiting for this moment for over an hour, during which the
line speedily lengthened from the steps of Big Bridges to Marston Quad.

The one-hour
event started with Adichie’s special reading of Americanah, first with a passage from the opening chapter and a second segment close to the
novel’s end. Directly following the reading, Adichie and Pomona history professor
April Mayes PO ’94 held a conversation in front of the audience.

While Americanah is known for its powerful
social commentary about race, immigration and identity, Adichie maintains that,
at its core, it is a love story. As a writer, Adichie hopes to “reclaim the
validity of love as a serious subject.” After all, she said that we need to change
the perception that women cannot seriously write about love, refuting the idea that “Jane Austen alone was allowed to write about love.”

“Love is
what makes us human,” she said.

In a Q&A
session following the conversation, Adichie addressed questions from a mix of students, Claremont College graduates and Claremont residents on a number of topics. Questions included specific aspects of Americanah, including the significance of Ifemelu’s romantic relationships as well as her advice for young writers, the ending of Americanah, her writing space and process, the challenges she has
faced and her own experience with racism.

As the
event drew to its end, audience members lined up to take photos with Adichie. With
an attendance of over 800 people, it was difficult to satisfy everyone’s
request within the scheduled 10 minutes, and the line extended from the stage
all the way to the back doors.

the events generated a social media mania. Students excitedly posted selfies
with Adichie, and many changed their profile pictures to their photos with
Adichie on the same night.

Adichie seemed to reciprocate the Pomona community’s enthusiasm for her visit to campus. During the live conversation with Oxtoby, she expressed interest in the president’s description of the
College’s Eyes on Africa initiative, a two-year program exploring the richness
and beauty of the African continent through art and culture. She suggested the
inclusion of stories of “Africans helping Africans” in the program, and said that college is an ideal environment in which to discuss race. 

Throughout the event, Adichie continually returned to the idea of storytelling and understanding experiences from a variety of perspectives. In her discussion of the creative process and reading of passages from Americanah, Adichie emphasized that watching for and examining the stories around us is crucial. 

“I feel very strongly about having many stories,” Adichie said in the live conversation with Oxtoby. “The idea that a person has many sides, and we can’t really start to get a sense of who they are until we know most of those sides, if not all of them, so I feel very strongly about having a multiplicity of stories, about people, about places, and also creating space for those stories to be heard.”

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