A return to public civility

Lisa Allardice talks to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

The reason for our call is the announcement that Adichie has won the public vote in the Winner of Winner’s award, celebrating 25 years of the Women’s prize for fiction. She won the award, when it was sponsored by Orange, in 2007, for her epic war novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, beating many of the biggest names in contemporary fiction.

The prize that was necessary because the people who awarded prizes kept overlooking women.

She hopes that the election of Biden will usher in a return to public civility. “I’m really excited at the idea that the discourse across the country will not sound like childish name calling. There’s a sadness there that this is how low the bar has sunk,” she says. “When you are Nigerian there are things that are familiar to you. You don’t expect them to happen in America. Trump showed me how fragile democracy is, how fragile what we consider the norms are.”

Especially the norm that bullying is bad.

When I last spoke to Adichie following the paperback publication of Dear Ijeawele in 2018, her manifesto for bringing up a feminist daughter, she had recently been on the wrong end of what she calls “the American liberal orthodoxy” for comments she made arguing that the experiences of trans women are distinct from those of women born female. She has no truck with “cancel culture” (her quote marks). “There’s a sense in which you aren’t allowed to learn and grow. Also forgiveness is out of the question. I find it so lacking in compassion. How much of our wonderfully complex human selves are we losing?” she asks. “I think in America the worst kind of censorship is self-censorship, and it is something America is exporting to every part of the world. We have to be so careful: you said the wrong word you must be crucified immediately.” She was interested by “all the noise” sparked by JK Rowling’s article on sex and gender, “a perfectly reasonable piece” in her view, earlier this year. “Again JK Rowling is a woman who is progressive, who clearly stands for and believes in diversity.” She blames social media for this rush to censure, which she finds both “cruel and sad. And in terms of ideas, it is fundamentally uninteresting. The orthodoxy, the idea that you are supposed to mouth the words, it is so boring.”

Boring, simple-minded, and not true.

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