Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a 30-something worth watching. At 19, although she had already been studying medicine at the University of Nigeria, Chimamanda decided to come to the United States to study communications and political science. Her first two novels—Purple Hibiscus (2003) and the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize winner Half of a Yellow Sun—both explore what it means to be Nigerian and what it means to be Nigerian-American. As her fiction was receiving accolades, the Nigerian-born author also received master's degrees from both Johns Hopkins and Yale University. In 2008, she received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, nicknamed "the genius award."
Now, her latest short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, is available in trade paperback and is climbing the best-seller lists. Two of her new stories—"Cell One" and "The Headstrong Historian"—were previously published and well received in The New Yorker. Most recently, The New Yorker placed her on its "20 Under 40" list of fiction writers to watch.
Before Chimamanda continues her ascent on the literary ladder, she answered 20 questions exclusively for Oprah.com readers.
1. What was the oddest job you ever had?
Receptionist at a pediatrician's office. Odd only because of my overenthusiastic whipping out of crayons and paper to cheer the kids up, when drawing was often the last thing they wanted to do.
2. How did you start writing?
I've been writing since I was old enough to spell.
3. What is your greatest career coup?
Perhaps winning the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant—because it was so unexpected.
4. What is your favorite film?
Babette's Feast, Eve's Bayou, The Remains of the Day.
5. What would your theme song be?
I don't know. I generally don't think in terms of theme songs.
6. Which individual has, for better or worse, had the single greatest influence on your life?
My father, professor James Nwoye Adichie. For better.
7. What book had the biggest impact on you? Why?
Camara Laye's The Dark Child and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart because they gave me a glorious shock of recognition. Until I read them, I was not consciously aware that people who looked like me could exist in books. I grew up in a Nigerian university town, and all the books I read before then were foreign children's books with white characters doing unfamiliar things.
What talent would Chimamanda most like to possess?
8. Have you ever read or written a perfect sentence? What was it?
No. I am suspicious of the idea of perfection.
9. What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome or challenge you have ever faced?
Making the decision to leave medical school in order do something else that would nurture my writing.
10. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
11. What talent would you most like to possess?
12. What inspires you most?
Everything. I tend not to think in extremes. So I am unsure of what inspires me the most, but I am sure of the many things that inspire me—people I love, books, watching strangers and eavesdropping on conversations.
13. What is your greatest fear?
That I will lose the people I love.
14. What gives you hope about the world today?
The little kindnesses that exist, the way people still show their humanity in tiny actions.
Chimamanda opens up about her secret guilty pleasures
15. What is one thing you have always wanted?
Complete and utter comprehension of the world and why we exist.
16. What is your most valued possession?
If one can think of people as "possessions," in the sense that by loving people they become ours in some sort of way, then my most valued possessions are the people I love—my family and my closest friends.
17. What is one book you've been meaning to read?
I've been meaning to finally finish Ulysses by James Joyce.
18. What is your favorite food?
Okpa, a steam-cooked bean dumpling from eastern Nigeria.
19. What is your secret guilty pleasure?
Shopping. Chocolate. But I''m not sure who secret or how guilty they are really. Everyone close to me knows how much pleasure both give me, and I own these pleasures!
20. How would you like to be remembered?
As a person who tried to be honest and who tried to be kind—and who often realized the difficulty of being both at the same time.
Chimamanda's latest novel, The Thing Around Your Neck, is now available in paperback.
Printed from Oprah.com on Tuesday, March 11, 2014
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