Chimamanda Adichie is a 2003 O. Henry Prize winner, has co-authored books with Jumpha Lahiri and Chinua Achebe. Ms. Adichie has been praised by The New Yorker, Publisher’s Weekly, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post — and most of us have never heard of this writer.
But what’s truly amazing is her 2009 TEDGlobal Talk about The Danger of a Single Story. In this talk, she looks deeply into the topic of how a people are easily defined by one-dimensional reporting by major media outlets. This creates a singular view of that people, or that topic for the viewers which, Ms. Adichie feels creates a lack of humanism and respect for that people, or topic.
For example, Ms. Adichie grew up middle-class in Nigeria with servants in their home. Her father was a professor and her mother an administrator. She continued her studies in the US and traveled abroad frequently. Not the typical story one associates with an African person, right?
When her novel came out, she was criticized that it was not ‘authentically African’. Even she did not know what that meant. How could it not? She is authentically African.
All of this lead me to thinking about the single story many writers have about themselves.
We believe that we don’t have ‘high concept’ stories within us. We believe that publishers ‘don’t understand us’. We believe that when we pass on then our works will become popular. We believe that we have to self-publish in order to be finally heard. We believe a lot of things that for each individual author/writer is their single story about themselves.
Taking from Ms. Adichie’s talk, we have to have many stories about ourselves as writers, as parents, as friends, as lovers, as teachers, as mentors, as dog-walkers, as teenagers, as zookeepers — you get the point. We have to see ourselves as well-rounded individuals with more to offer and to give. With a larger view of ourselves in our own minds, we will then re-structure our own writings and that may possibly resonate more perfectly with those who we are writing for.
Channeling a new and different experience is another way for us writers to expand our viewpoints and awarenesses. Maybe trying a new genre, or a different POV after re-imaging ourselves as fully rounded individuals will also make a difference.
Amy Tan, writer of The Joy Luck Club, spoke about the perception that writers may have the Van Gogh Syndrome where they are psychotic or may have temporal lobe seizures that fuel their creativity in her TEDTalk. While absolutely hilarious to me, after thinking some more about it, I began to wonder if you do have to have a bit of insanity roiling around in order to write (no, seriously!).
Take a moment today and think of 5 stories outside of writing that express who you are and make a little scrapbook art project about it. Find pictures that represent these other areas of who you are and then add images of you being a writer in the center. This sum total of your parts is you and you need all of your parts to be successful. I think that’s ultimately what Ms. Adichie’s theme was in her talk about the single story.