June 25, 2010
Recently I went to a reading and discussion at Magers and Quinn. The guest writer was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Hailed as the "literary granddaughter" of Chinua Achebe, she is by most accounts pretty hot stuff in the writing community. You can read more about her here: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/06/14/100614fi_fiction_20under40_qa_chimamanda-ngozi-adichie
I'd read her short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck before attending the event, so I already knew her subject was—among other things—Nigeria. This was what interested me most: how a place rooted her writing, how everything came back to her original home. During the discussion time, she talked about being haunted, yes, by the effects of colonialism and by Nigeria's violent past, but her strongest display of emotion came when she described her frustration with outsiders who felt that—because they'd visited or studied some corner of Africa—they already knew her story.
"Oh, yeah—Fargo, right? Good movie. It's weird, though: you don't sound like a Minnesotan..."
It's a pretty big leap to compare the Midwest with Africa, but I guess what I'm saying is that it feels to me like I'm writing for some of the same reasons Adichie is: to get the word out, to set the record straight. And I wonder what percentage of writers put fingers to keys for the same reason? Isn't one of our main desires as humans to be seen as we see ourselves?
Minnesota doesn't have Nigeria's tumultuous political history, doesn't have the exoticism of another language and far-away borders. But that doesn't mean we don't matter. That doesn't mean there aren't stories here of worlds dramatically clashing, livelihoods being stolen, grief and triumph walking down the same grocery aisle. Everything matters. There is so much that needs to be said if simply for the sake of speaking it.