Writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has received the highest honour of Harvard University in the field of African and African American studies, which is the W.E.B Du Bois Medal. ENIOLA OYEMOLADE talks about the journey of the writer so far.
Popular Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has received the W.E.B Du Bois Medal on October 6, 2022, at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The W.E.B Du Bois Medal is Harvard’s highest honour in the field of African and African American studies. It is awarded to individuals in the United States and across the globe in recognition of their contributions to African and African American culture and the life of the mind.
According to the Director of the Hutchins Centre, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., in an official statement, the 2022 honourees, including Adichie, represent “unyielding commitment to pushing the boundaries of representation and creating opportunities for advancement and participation for people who have been too often shut out from the great promise of our times.”
On her Instagram page, Adichie had posted a video of her speech during the award ceremony. She had said, “The most meaningful thing for me as a writer is to know that I can create something that means something to other people. And so, what moves me the most is to hear from people who have read me and say ‘your work made me feel seen, your work made me think differently, your work made me feel that I was not alone’.
“So I am so grateful for this award because again, it makes me think that what I am doing matters and it’s a gift to feel that what you are doing matters.
“For the young people who are here, if you care about anything, please care about reading. Reading is so important, reading is magical; books are magical and I really think one of the best ways to counter what seems to me to be an ugly tsunami of book banning that is going around in this country, is to read.
“The only way we can answer to censorship of books is to read books and so, for you young people, I just want to make a small suggestion: how about you give up social media for two weeks, three weeks, a month? And read, read, read. Thank you. This has been such an honour.”
Alongside another video of her hugging some of the other medallists, she had written: “I felt so honoured to be honoured with Harvard University’s DuBois Medal…”
Recipients of the award have included writers, scholars, artists, philanthropists, journalists and public servants whose works have helped the field of African and African American studies.
Some past recipients of the medal include Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Steven Spielberg and Chinua Achebe.
The Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research had stated that the medal was for people “who embody the values of commitment and resolve that are fundamental to the Black experience in America”.
Born in Enugu on September 15, 1977, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up on the campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where her father was a Professor and her mother was the first female Registrar.
After studying medicine for a year at Nsukka, she left for the United States at the age of 19 to continue her education on a different path.
In 2001, she graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State University with a degree in Communication and Political Science.
She has a Master’s Degree in African Studies from Yale University and another Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She was awarded a Hodder fellowship at Princeton University for the 2005 to 2006 academic year, and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University for the 2011 to 2012 academic year. In 2008, she received a MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the “genius grant.”
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Adichie has received honorary doctorate degrees from top schools like Johns Hopkins University, the University of Edinburgh, Eastern Connecticut State University, Williams College, Haverford College, Duke University, Bowdoin College, Yale University, SOAS University of London, Georgetown University, University of Pennsylvania, among others.
Her work has also been translated into over thirty languages.
Her first novel, ‘Purple Hibiscus’ written in 2003, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her second novel, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, written in 2006, won the Orange Prize.
Another of her novel ‘Americanah’ written in 2013, won the United States National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. A story from her collection, ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, was awarded the O Henry Prize.
Adichie has delivered two notable TED talks which are the 2009 TED Talk ‘The Danger of A Single Story’ and her 2012 TEDx Euston talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, which started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014.
‘Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’, which is an epistolary form of manifesto was published in March 2017.
Her most recent work, ‘Notes On Grief’, published in 2021, which talks about hope and remembrance is an essay about losing her father.
She was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2015. In 2017, Fortune Magazine named her one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. In 2018, she received the Global Hope Coalition’s Thought Leadership Award, and the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award.
Adichie is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
She divides her time between the United States and Nigeria, where she leads an annual creative writing workshop.
In 2009, Adichie married Ivara Esege, a Nigerian doctor, and together, they have one daughter, who was born in 2016.