Award-winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently received the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal, Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African-American studies.
Born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1977, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s parents were faculty at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Her father was a professor and her mother was the first female registrar at the school. She studied medicine for a year in Nigeria then moved to the United States at 19 years old. When she arrived in the U.S., she changed courses and enrolled into Eastern Connecticut State University where she would graduate summa cum laude and obtain a degree in communications and political science. She went on to get a masters degree from John Hopkins University in Creative Writing and a Master of Arts degree in African History from Yale University.
Adichie has received many awards prior to this one, such as the Hodder fellowship at Princeton University and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University. In 2008, she received a MacArthur Fellowship. She’s also received many honorary doctorate degrees from Eastern Connecticut State University, Johns Hopkins University, Haverford College, Williams College, the University of Edinburgh, Duke University, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, SOAS University of London, American University, Georgetown University, Yale University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Northwestern University. In 2015, Adichie was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and in 2017, Fortune Magazine named her one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. She is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She currently divides her time between the U.S. and Nigeria where she leads annual creative writing workshops.
The novelist has written two award-winning books, her first one being Purple Hibiscus (2003), which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her second book being Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), which won the Orange Prize. Her 2013 novel, Americanah, won the U.S. National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. Her most recent work is Notes On Grief, an essay about losing her father.
Her most recent award is named after Du Bois, who was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D from Harvard University, and is given 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. Recipients have ranged from scholars, artists and writers to journalists, philanthropists, and public servants, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Laverne Cox, Agnes Guns, Raymond J McGuire, Deval Patrick and Betye Saar.
Adichie was awarded at the The Harvard Center Honors in Massachusetts. She gave a beautiful speech talking about her flee from Nigeria, saying, “I was made to tell stories…and it’s such an honor for me to be on this stage. It’s such an honor for me to be honored to get this WEB Du Bois Medal for so many reasons. 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 who say, ‘your work made me feel seen’, ‘your work made me think differently’, ‘your work made me feel that I was not alone.’ And I’m so grateful for this award because it just makes me feel that what I’m doing matters and it’s a gift to feel what you’re doing matters.”
She also encouraged young people to dedicate more time to reading, saying, “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 that one of the best ways to counter what seems to me to be a really ugly tsunami of book bannings going around in this country is to read. The only way that we can answer to censorship of books is to read books.” Speaking about embracing books at the expense of social media, Adichie said, “And so for you young people, I just want to make a very small suggestion, how about you give up social media for you know, two weeks, three weeks, a month, and read, read, read.”
Photos courtesy of ONE Campaign and The Guardian