Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Feminist Platform

Yesterday I watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on feminism. NOT because Beyonce told me to (although I admit I did learn about the Ted Talk because of her music video featuring the author). Before Bey, I only knew about Chi’s first Ted Talk about the danger of a single story.  But the one I watched yesterday had nothing to do with writing. It was about feminism. It was an incredibly insightful, accessible and on-point discussion of feminism.

I find it interesting that Adichie’s work as a novelist put her in a position to be an authority on feminism. Interesting but not surprising.  Anyone who sits down and writes a 300-page work of fiction has thought about something a lot. Adichie happened to come to conclusions about the expectations placed upon women (and men).  But all novelists, I believe, inevitably develop a strong opinion on a person or group or society because to write their books they are forced to deeply consider things like what motivates people to do what they do.  Or, what in someone’s background would make them act a certain way.  What experiences would force a person to change?

Somewhere in the midst of these noveling thoughts, Adichie started having feminist ideas and eventually chose to share them with the world.  Not just through art, in an abstract sense.  But also through a Ted Talk, in a direct, intellectual sense.  Without necessarily studying feminist theory, she evolved into somewhat of an expert because she thought about it deeply while writing her novels (I assume). She became an authority not just on writing, but on something completely different.

This made me realize that all authors probably become sort-of-experts on whatever they choose to focus on in their work be it human behavior, politics, relationships, a specific culture, a specific race, or anything else.

There’s a lot of discussion about how, in order to get published, you need to build a platform.  But what about the platform you build after you’ve been published?  What about the issues you’ll have the opportunity to discuss when you’ve reached a stature that leads people to actually listen?  I wonder, when Chimamanda wrote her first novel did she think she would become an authority on feminism?  Does she wish she had?

Anyway, both of Chi’s Ted Talks are definitely worth viewing—seriously. She’s clearly brilliant, but she doesn’t speak to show you how smart she is; rather, she discusses the topic in way that you can easily understand. Below is the Ted Talk on the danger of a single story.

Embracing Publishing Trends (Fyi, Afropolitans—Now is Your Moment)

The publishing industry is a fickle thing.  The lawyer side of me likes to think that the creative world isn’t so market-driven, but it’s not quite so.  Of course the best thing I (or any other writer) can do is write the stories in my heart; however, it would be a mistake to pretend like trends don’t exist in the publishing world.  Vampires can be a trend.  So can black fiction (I’m not saying that’s appropriate, but I think it’s true).

Here’s the problem with publishing trends: a book comes out that is extremely popular (e.g., Twilight or Waiting to Exhale or the DaVinci Code or whatever the first Chick Lit book was).  Publishers get excited and order millions of other books in that genre (quality is secondary).  People buy these novels expecting to pick up another Waiting to Exhale or Something Borrowed but instead they get something that just sucks.  Again and again and again.  Finally, they decide the whole genre sucks.  Or publishers decide the whole genre no longer sells.  When really, the problem was that the publishers chose far too many sh*t*y books to begin with.  Then someone comes along with a story about a vampire, woman looking for love, or a symbologist that’s actually GOOD and they don’t stand a chance.  Or at least, the process is harder than it should be given the quality of their work. A vicious cycle.

So yeah, there are some problems in the way the publishing industry works.  But trends aren’t going away.  I accept that.  In fact, I embrace it.  The key for budding authors like myself may be to become aware of the trends and then try to jump in when we can.  My novel teacher said it’s a good time to write if you’re a minority—yes!  Want to write about China?  Probably a good move.  Personally, I’ve noticed that now seems to be the moment of the Afropolitan.  I’m talking about Africans educated in U.S. or Europe writing about their experiences.  This year alone you have Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and those are just the few that I’ve come across in mainstream magazines like Glamour and Vogue (what you thought I was reading the NYT? Actually, they’re in there too).  So if you are an Afropolitan—fyi, now is your moment.

I’m not an Afropolitan, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s my moment too.  Or, better yet—maybe I can START a trend.  My book will be so successful, publishers will buy millions more just like it!  The only problem is, I don’t know what my genre is.  Women’s contemporary fiction? But half of it is male POV.  African American fiction?  But my whole thing is that I’m trying to write for a wide audience.  When I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know!

Have you noticed any other publishing trends?  What do you think?