Is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the feminist icon of the 21st century? Ask anyone familiar with the Nigerian-born author and you’ll get a resolute, collective yes. But she herself has a rather different answer.
“No, I am not,” she says. “I have become a voice of modern feminism, I’ll concede that, even though it wasn’t at all intended. But I am not an icon, nor a leading figure of any kind. I just speak my mind.”
Doing so with an eloquence and purpose has made her work reverberate across countries and diverse audiences, which makes her, if not an icon, certainly one of the most remarkable women in contemporary culture today.
Here are five ways she's fronting feminism:
Adichie was 26 when she published her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her second book, 2006’s Half of a Yellow Sun—set during the Biafran War in Nigeria— was also critically acclaimed, picking up a number of international prizes.
In 2008 she won a MacArthur Fellowship—the so-called “Genius Grant,” given annually to between 20 and 30 “extraordinary” individuals working in any eld—and in 2013, the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for Americanah, a modern love story set between America and Nigeria.
The common thread to all her writing? Her uncompromising heroines—some of the most engrossing characters in recent fiction.
Her TED Talks
Two, precisely, but we wouldn’t be surprised if she were to do more any time soon (message to Adichie: please do).
Her 2009 TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story" warned against seeing the world from a single perspective and currently counts 12 million views on the TED website.
Her next talk, "We Should All Be Feminists", addressed a feminism beyond race or class. It took on a life of its own, and projected the author into celebrity territory (Beyoncé even sampled the speech in her 2013 song Flawless).
A book followed titled We Should All Be Feminists, which turned into a call to arms for a generation of young feminists—so much so that in 2015, every 16-year-old high school student in Sweden was given a copy as a mandatory read.
The ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ T-Shirt
Last September, Dior’s new creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri sent models down the runway sporting T-shirts that bore the line: We Should All Be Feminists. Adichie was sitting front row, the show’s guest of honour.
The design was an ode to the power of her work, but it also firmly placed her on the Olympus of fashion’s power players. Celebrities and influencers from Rihanna to Jennifer Lawrence and Chiara Ferragni have all been spotted flaunting the tees, as have style-savvy women around the globe.
“I love the T-shirts, and I love that Maria Grazia decided to use my words as a ‘slogan,’ so to speak,” says Adichie. “She’s genuine and real and interesting, so when she came to me with the idea, I had no qualms giving my permission.”
Adichie disregards—and is very much against—dichotomies and categorisations.
“I am so tired of people saying that if you’re part of the literati and a real feminist then you shouldn’t care for frivolous things,” she says. “It’s just plain misogynistic, and all the more frustrating when it comes from other women.”
Her latest style project, Wear Nigerian, proves such defiance. Launched as an Instagram account she runs with the help of her twenty-year-old nieces Chisom and Amaka, Wear Nigerian captures the writer wearing Nigerian brands on her public appearances, in an effort to support designers from her native country.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she says. “And fascinating, too. I am discovering so many new Nigerian labels. Not everything I order has been of the highest quality, but I enjoy wearing the clothes.”
Her unique style
Increasingly over the years, Adichie has made her style a talking point. Her fashion choices are bold and beautiful, her outfits—both from Wear Nigerian and other international brand—always on point. If we could have access to her closet, we would probably raid it.
In 2016, the author also became the face of British retailer Boots’ No7 beauty brand, pushing back the idea that intellect and makeup can’t go hand in hand.
“This is who I am,” she says. “A person who likes lipstick and cares about her appearance, and a person who wants to strive for gender equality and write about race and politics and love.”