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From the Archive: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Recalls Growing Up in Chinua Achebe’s House

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
AmericanahPurple HibiscusHalf of a Yellow Sun

In a country with a population of 170 million, it is an extraordinary coincidence that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in the house that had once belonged to Chinua Achebe.

Adichie’s father worked at the University of Nigeria – in fact, he became Nigeria’s first professor of statistics in 1976. Achebe had taught at the same institution in the early 1970s, and at one point the Adichie family moved into the campus accommodation that had been vacated by the Achebes.

Chinua AchebeThe two men were friends, but Achebe and Adichie never met. Achebe tried to arrange a meeting with Adichie after the publication of her first novel, but she says she was reluctant to come fact to face with the grandfather of Nigerian literature, telling the National Post: “I was in awe of him. I didn’t want to meet him.”

The Nigerian literary legends finally met in 2009. Achebe passed away in 2013.

At an event celebrating African literature at Brown University in 2008, Achebe explained further: “I wanted to start by saying something about the bit of my biography that usually gets the most response from people, which is that I lived in Chinua Achebe’s house.

“Growing up, and because it really was just an ordinary coincidence that the university campus was a small place, so people would move out, people would move in, I didn’t really think about this, that Chinua Achebe’s family had moved out before my family moved in.

“Until Purple Hibiscus was about to be published and I was talking to my editor, an American, and I said to her, ‘You know, it’s interesting that I lived in this house that Chinua Achebe lived in’, and she stopped and said: ‘It’s not interesting … it’s the most important thing that you’ve told me about yourself!’

“And she then said it had to go in my bio, and since then it’s sort of become, really, the most important thing about me. And I feel very grateful.”

Adichie goes on to read from Half of a Yellow Sun, which is set in 1960s Nigeria and follows three major characters, one of whom is Ubu, a houseboy from a poor village who goes to work for a university professor.

“Ubu in many ways was inspired by stories my mother told about the houseboy she had during the war,” Adichie says. “And also, he was based on the houseboy we had growing up. And the scene I’m going to read, which features chicken, was inspired by a similar chicken incident when I was growing up.”


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Photos courtesy PEN American Center


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