SYDNEY (Reuters) - Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a professional eavesdropper: she admits a lot of what she writes is based on what she’s overheard.
Adichie, whose second novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” won her the Orange Prize for fiction in 2007, says that while most of her characters are inspired by the stories her family tell, she’s also heard some incredible tales at cafes in the United States or while shopping at markets back home.
She recently released a collection of short stories, “The Thing Around Your Neck,” that tell even more tales — deceptively simple stories set in Nigeria and abroad that explore complex themes such as loneliness, cultural alienation and relationships.
Born in Nigeria in 1977, Adichie grew up in the university town of Nsukka. She moved to the United States to attend college, graduating with a major in communication and also holds masters degrees in creative writing and African studies.
Adichie’s first novel, 2003’s “Purple Hibiscus,” earned her rave reviews, the Best First Book award in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and comparisons with renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, author of the widely read “Things Fall Apart.”
Adichie, who was in Sydney recently to attend a writers’ festival, spoke to Reuters about the art of telling stories:
Q: You are praised for your story-telling abilities. How different is a story-teller from an author?
A: “I don’t know really. I think of myself as a story teller. I think there are writers that are less interested in stories in the conventional sense and more interested in using words to create atmosphere or mood.”
Q: So what inspired the stories in your book?
A: “I love eavesdropping! For me fiction is using stories I have heard or read or seen, so I’m very much an eavesdropper. I never mind my business and I ask people personal questions and I use it in my fiction, but I make changes to it. So a lot of my fiction starts from that, from real stories. Not necessarily about myself, I don’t like writing about myself.”
Q: What do you find attractive about the short story format compared to the novels you’ve written?
A: “I like both forms really. Sometimes there’s a sense when people talk about short stories as somehow they are the less accomplished sibling of the novel. I think both are complete forms and both difficult to write.”
Q: What does the title of your book signify?
A: “‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ is the title of one of the stories in the book. It’s about immigration, about the alienation one feels when one leaves home and goes to a different place. In some ways most of the stories are about that, so it seemed right to make sense to call it that.”
Q: What other themes run through your book?
A: “I am interested in human relationships, particularly how gender affects the way we relate to one another. So the relationships between men and women, romantic and otherwise — and you know how that’s complicated — is something I am interested in exploring and watching.”
Q: Is the loneliness you write about something you felt living in the United States?
A: “Not really. My home is still Nigeria but I happen to spend a lot of time outside of Nigeria as well and, because I’m fortunate enough to do that, I really don’t feel lonely because home is there - I can go home.”
Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy