On the first day of January, 2021, while the world stepped cautiously out of 2020, a year filled with unfortunate events and unusual first times, and into a new decade, clutching hearts and festering hopes; the Bounce Radio premiered an episode of the Black Box Interview, hosted by the compere and Big Brother Naija ex housemate, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu,and featuredChimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the renowned Nigerian writer and activist.
The interview had an air of warmth and candor, accentuated by a shared history between Ebuka and Chimamanda. The conversation was electrified by a robust flow of smiles, honesty and collective aura, from start to finish. Personally, it felt like eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between close friends.The conversation started from a shocker— the author’s invention of the name ‘Chimamanda,’ and touched on other topics like: her movies/music tastes, her husband’s failed Star Wars debut, her impression of the Nigerian creative space, Nsukka and her teenage years, old flames and past lovers, early dreams and aspirations, life abroad, the error in the Nigerian Catholicism, and other topics lodged in the et cetera section.
On Her Invention of The Name ‘Chimamanda’:
One would think that Chimamanda’s view on the catholic church would be given first place and more importance as a lot of writers have done in the past,however, her invention of the name ‘Chimamanda’ is abigger deal. It is quite surprising, totally shocking even, that her first name which has become mainstream for and among young Igbo ladies, and which she is popularly called, was invented by the author and notgiven to her by her parents or the church, during confirmation, as we thought.
“It happened shortly before my first novel was published,” she said, breaking off and reluctant to divulge the history of the name, during the interview. After a little nudge from Ebuka—the laudable male version of Legend of The Seeker’s Mother Confessor— she gave an account of how she came about the name,tracing the lines from the point where she refused to choose a saint’s name for her Confirmation (a rite/sacrament of the Catholic church), and chose Amanda instead, down to that moment in her brother’s apartment in England, where she had a ‘revelation’ while thinking about her soon-to-be published novel. It stemmed from a desire to be genuine and genuinely be known as Igbo, and the fact that she did not want to be introduced to the world as Amanda. That was whenaccording to her, the name was revealed to her by herancestors.
On Why She Doesn’t Attend The Catholic Church In Nigeria:
When asked if she was still a catholic, her reply was, “I guess nominally, I still feel protective of certain things about the Catholic Church.” Ebuka being Ebuka, wanting to squeeze a simplified answer out of her, asked again, “are you a catholic?” A question that made her respond with a rigmarole and finally an affirmative, “culturally, yes.”
At the question of if she still attends the catholic church —to which she replied “certainly not in Nigeria,” and why she doesn’t, she replied “I think that,you know in my(…), I think there is way too much talkabout money and fundraising you know.” But the bone of contention —on why she doesn’t attend catholic churches in Nigeria, is the overt materialism and classism in the Nigerian Catholic church system. The conversation stretched to other church related topics:religion in general, her expectations of the catholic church in Nigeria, and her admiration for Pope Francis.
On Nsukka, Growing Up, And Boys:
“I often say that it [growing up in Nsukka], was the best time of my life.” She spoke of Nsukka the way one talks about a past lover, with a searing fondness dripping from her voice. She spoke of how access to quality education in Nsukka shaped her life, and howthe effect of the social life and close-knit nature of the university environment contributed to molding her being. If there was one thing about Nsukka that stuck with her, it is “the confidence of being who you are… not conforming.”
On boys, she talked about her first love, old flames and how “boys have never been a distraction, because I have always known what I want to do.” And spoke of her role in enabling her trip abroad and opting out of acareer in the sciences without the stereotypical push and pressure from parents, as is usually the case back in the days, and even now.
On Her Music taste And Impression Of The Nigerian Creative space:
Chimamanda didn’t seem to be an avid consumer of music: she could barely list more than two Nigerian artistes at first, but later added few names after Ebukahad supplied a few possible ones. She mentioned Flavour, Phyno, Omawumi, Waje, Falana, UmuObiligbo, Onyeka Onwenu, Florence and the Machine et cet, as creators of the sort of music she listens to, occasionally. She spoke of Phyno and Umu Obiligbo’smusic with fondness, and Flavour’s too.
She praised the talents of Nigerian creatives, and the recent contribution of their confidence in propelling their art. She also stated her love for the Nigerian visual art, a confession that made Ebuka talk aboutadvances in tech and startups, and about a recent United Nations conference he had attended and the following quote made by a foreigner to our aged political gatekeepers, “the only thing that works in Nigeria are those things run by young people in Nigeria.” It is a quote I will have inscribed on a plaque and hung on my soul forever.
The Blackbox interview is probably the most revealing interview Chimamanda has ever done, and we are not done, there is a part two: more engaging, brutally honest and more omo-worthy. On the part two of the interview, she talked about her dad’s death, why having a male child might be impossible, her published works,feminism, politics, Buhari ties, her forthcoming book, a call-out letter to all who have told lies about her, etcetera. A review of the part two will follow this shortly, I did a review, not just on the conversation, but on her new temperament, worldview and other analysis you’d give an arm to read.
You can watch the part one of the interview here: https://youtu.be/z_Ec4dtjn1Y
Written by Christopher Nwankwo for Arts Lounge.