Friday, July 9, 2010

Keeping your writing true to yourself - and your experiences

What does an American girl named Peggy who eats apples have in common with the Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie? Very little, as it turns out. On June 17th, Tenement Talks presented The Thing Around Your Neck with the award-winning writer in conversation with Tayari Jones. After the author read from her new compilation of short stories, Jones asked Adichie to recap on a TED Talk that she gave in July of 2009 about the dangers of the single story. According to Jones, the TED Talk received over 40,000 hits -- an impressive number of listeners.

Adichie said that when she was younger, she used to read children’s literature from England and the USA. As a child, she thought all stories had white people in them because the majority of main characters in the books she read were white. When she began writing, she wrote the kind of stories she read. Many of her characters had names like Peggy, were “white as snow, and ate apples.” Adichie said she had not tasted an apple until she was 13, and she had never seen snow. She finally found other books that reflected experiences similar to her own. Adichie commented that in many cases, middle-class children all over the developing world are exposed to literature that does not mirror their own lives. She commented on the importance of children being able to see themselves in the literature they read because it shows that their story is worthy enough to be written. Providing different perspectives in literature allows readers who are often underrepresented to have a voice and a story they can connect to personally.

Adichie also mentioned that listening to diverse points of view is imperative in understanding current events. She told an anecdote about a recent trip she took to Mexico. She had heard a great deal about Mexicans immigrating illegally to America on the news, but when she visited Mexico, she was surprised that the people were not like “the abject immigrants” she had heard about. Taking into consideration the multiple truths that exist in any scenario have helped deepen and elevate her writing.

Link to the TED Talk:

- Posted by Alana

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