Nigerian writer and the author of the National Book Critics Fiction Award “Americanah”, Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has described the administration of President Donald Trump as dangerous. Speaking at the Pen America World Festival of Voices in New York City on Wednesday, Adichie lamented that there was little cause for optimism under President Trump. She expressed the concern that under Trump what people thought would never happen in America could happen.
Adichie described Trump as a man came into politics via “alternate racist campaign called birthism”. The 2008 MacArthur Genius Grant winner expressed displeasure at how Trump talked about immigrant in a simplistic dehumanizing way, arguing that Democracy could be very fragile.
“American optimism can go too far,” she said.
Her opinion was a sharp contrast to that of Trevor Noah, the host of “Daily Show” on Comedy Central. The South African born comedian described Trump as “the stress test of America,” and argued that the fact that many more Americans voted for Hilary Clinton than for Donald Trump is a cause for optimism. “Optimism tricks you to try to get better even if you don’t get there,” he said.
The conversation with these two leading African artists took place at The Town Hall, in New York City. It started with a discussion of their published articles about the election of Donald Trump as president and their individual perception of the president after 100 days in office.
Discussing his bestselling memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” Noah, the New York Times bestselling author described how the class and racial system in apartheid South Africa prepared him for the social condition in America.
When in 2015, the then relatively unknown Noah, was named the host of the Daily Show after the retirement of Jon Stewart, there were concerns that his choice was the wrong one. But after Trump won the 2016 US presidential election, Trevor went deep into his African experience to create a sophisticated portrait of Donald Trump. With that, his show got a new mission – to define Trump for Americans not used to living under a dictatorship.
Noah is someone who does not only take swipe at presidents and royalties; he does the same to nations and their people. Here is what he said about Nigeria and South African: “Nigerians have excessive confidence. South Africans have slightly diminished confidence.”
Noah’s comedy shows are very popular across the world. His 9th comedy special, “Afraid of the Dark” debuted on Netflix in February. His book, “Born A Crime” is a tribute to his black mother who chose to have him out of a relationship with a Swiss German man White when interracial relationship was a crime in South Africa.
Speaking about the writing process, Adichie narrated how she has continued to resist attempts by editors and publishers to tamper with her vision as a writer or to dumb down her work to make it easier for non-Africans to understand. She railed about those in the publishing world who think that only their stories are universal. “We still don’t live in a world where everyone’s story matters,” she said.
Vowing not to compromise in that fight for authentic artistic vision, Adichie said, “I told my friend, Binyavanga Wainaina, that any time I start doing that, he should kill me.”
Noah was more reconciliatory in his approach. He felt it was proper to do what is needed to expand the reach of his audience as long as one did not end up selling out in the process or becoming commercial.
“I would love to be commercial,” Adichie interrupted. “There is no Igbo person who will not like to be commercial.”
Of course, Adichie’s books are all bestsellers. As of 2009, her 2006 novel, “Half of A Yellow Sun” has sold over half a million copies in the United Kingdom alone. It has remained a top seller on Amazon. And so were her book of essay born out of a 2012 TEDxEuston speech, “We Should All Be Feminist.” Adichie has since become part of worldwide pop culture with Beyonce sampling her work in the song, “Flawless.”
In March of this year, “One Book, One New York”, picked her last novel, Americanah as winner, defeating five other writers. Adichie will be inaugurated into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October.
“I think of myself politically as pan-African,” Adichie said. “So what does that mean? I care about what happens in Kenya and in Brazil.”