30 July 2018
Internationally acclaimed and award-winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave an inspirational speech at SOAS University of London’s 2018 graduation ceremonies where she called on graduates to ‘set the world alight’.
Ms Adichie accepted her Honorary Doctorate from fellow Honorary, the highly regarded international cookery writer Claudia Roden. SOAS Director Baroness Valerie Amos CH was also present at the ceremony.
To the new graduates she said: “You now have the knowledge to enable you to set the world alight. So however you want to go about doing that do not ever let anyone tell you not to try to change something because that is the way it has always been. Every political, economic and social structure we have in the world today was created by people and can be recreated by people.”
She said of SOAS: “You’re very fortunate to have studied here at SOAS – this wonderfully multifaceted place that is steeped in diversity where difference is normal, this place where you can study so many non-European and European languages, where different people from different parts of the world converge to learn question and to grow.”
On writing fiction she said: “I don’t know why I write fiction, what I do know is that I have to write fiction. It is how I make sense of the world; it is what gives me joy. To write fiction is to embark on a long walk knowing you will trip and fall many times but still very keen to take the walk. In writing my novels I would often get stuck. I would know intuitively that something was not right but not know how to make it right. And in such situations I would take to my bed and eat a lot of chocolate.
“But even in the middle of the chocolate bingeing I knew that at some point I would get up and try again. And it seems to me this is not a bad way to look at the rest of your life. You will trip many times. It’s part of the journey. Don’t be surprised when you fall, maybe even lounge in the dirt a little and then get up. Always get up.”
Professor Fareda Banda introduced her noting that: “Reading Chimamanda as a black woman is particularly moving and affirming. There we stand fully realised, not ciphers, not waiting for salvation from a male or other protagonist. We are not there to add grit and colour to someone else’s story. No, we are the story.
“Proudly feminist, our Honorary has written two non-fiction books, We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, both bestsellers. In writing about feminism in a way the ordinary person can understand Ms Adiche has done more to explain feminist goals and has won over more sceptics than any number of dense incomprehensible academic texts have managed.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning novelist. Her work includes Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize. Her 2013 novel Americanah won the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. Her books have challenged perceptions around issues such as identity and race, and her internationally renowned TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’ had a global impact on conversations about gender equality. Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Ms Adichie was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine in 2015 and one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine in 2017.