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Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today I ran across an excellent TED talk by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story.” It’s well worth listening to.

I’d dispute her idea that our perceptions of Africa — of a place filled with starving, helpless people, ever the victims of war and famine, ever in need of Western assistance — comes from literature. Few of us read the old colonial literature of Africa. My neighbour who supervises road crews doesn’t. My other neighbour, the electrician, doesn’t. We get these ideas from the media: from television, newspapers, the magical Internet.

We love the reductive simplicity of a single story. Even those of us who think we’re enlightened love to indulge in a single story. And of course, we face the danger of allowing those simple, reductive ideas to come out in the stories we write.

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  1. Mel B
    February 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Greetings, I came on your site because I was googling Chimamanda Adichie, I also saw her on TED and she’s fabulous. I also dispute your dispute. Call me crazy but what she said is absolutely correct. Literature is also found on the magical internet, newspapers and also television. Anything you can read is considered literature. Please dont make black people look bad by disputing an successful African writer by inputting your narrow vision of how the world see’s Africa. Yes, you and your living wage friends dont get that view of Africa like the rest of the World, as a black male, last thing you need to tell the world is how the rest of Western Culture views those they consider lower class and uneducated. Seems that you too, who just learned abou the single story…. still falls victim to the crabs in a barrel single story.

  2. February 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks for leaving a comment, Mel.

    If you choose to define “literature” in that way — as including the Internet, newspapers, and television — then it is accurate to say that the Western view of Africa is created by literature.

    But this is not the definition of “literature” that I used here, and I don’t think it’s the definition of “literature” that Adichie intended — writers tend not to consider newspapers, or television, or, in fact, many books, as literature, and she referred specifically to books.

    I don’t see how you could possibly construe my post as an attack on Adichie.

  1. March 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

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