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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
The new face of Nigerian literature?
By Senan Murray
BBC News Website, Abuja

Growing up in a house once occupied by famous Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe was "a lovely coincidence", Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, but it may have been where she first caught the literary bug.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ms Adichie said she always wanted to write about the Biafran war

For an impressionable seven-year-old daughter of a professor, living in Mr Achebe's former house on the university campus in the south-eastern town of Nsukka must have had a profound effect on young Ms Adichie.

The campus features heavily in both of her highly acclaimed novels.

It was also the beginning of her walk in the footsteps of Nigeria's other Igbo literary giants such as Cyprian Ekwensi and Chukwuemeka Ike.

"He is a remarkable man. The writer and the man. He's what I think writers should be," Ms Adichie says of Chinua Achebe, whose 1958 book, Things Fall Apart, earned him global acclaim.

After the publication of her first book Purple Hibiscus, one critic described Ms Adichie as "Chinua Achebe's 21st Century daughter".

With a mathematics professor father and her mother a university administrator, Ms Adichie was not expected to become a writer.

Her parents sent her to university in Nigeria to study medicine, but after a year in medical college, she abandoned her studies and moved to the United States where she looked after her older sister's son to pay her way through college.


Despite her new-found fame, not many Nigerians outside the country's literary community have heard of Ms Adichie.

But news that she won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction for her latest book Half of a Yellow Sun, covered by most Nigerian dailies on Thursday, is likely to inspire a new nationwide interest in the 29-year-old author.

I don't think the people that gave her that prize really know her writing
Ahmed Maiwada
Nigerian writer and critic

Although she is not as popular as her idol, Mr Achebe, or his kinsman, Mr Ekwensi, Ms Adichie is well-known in Nigeria's literary community where she is regarded with mixed feelings.

"She is a really creative person and I think her greatness also lies in the fact that she stays true to her African roots," says Odoh Okonyedo, literary editor of Nigeria's Weekly Trust.

"She unashamedly borrows Achebe's style. But on the whole, I will say she is the new face of Nigerian literature."

For Ms Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun is not some distant tale of the horrors of Nigeria's three-year Biafran civil war.

Her grandfather died in a refugee camp during the war, a fact, she says, which still made her cry while she was writing the award-winning book.

She said she wrote the book as a tribute to him and had always wanted to take on this subject.


Mr Okonyedo sees her book as part of a "renaissance of Biafra".

Biafra was the short-lived breakaway independent republic declared by a former army colonel, Chukuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, for Ms Adichie's Igbo people.

After a war is fought, the victors immediately write their history. But it takes a while for the victims to find their voice
Dulue Mbachu
Nigerian writer

While Ms Adichie says she wanted to write a story about love during the war, Mr Okonyedo feels she should have tackled the subject more seriously.

"As the new leading light in this Biafra renaissance, the task on the table of Adichie is to clarify what Biafra is about, rather than her newest nostalgic and superficial romance," Mr Okonyedo told the BBC News website.

Another Nigerian writer and literary critic, Ahmed Maiwada, says he is not carried away by Ms Adichie's new win.

"I don't think the people that gave her that prize really know her writing," Mr Maiwada told the BBC News website.

Voice for Africa

But fellow Igbo writer Dulue Mbachu thinks Ms Adichie's award is "a good thing for her as a person and good for Nigerian literature".

Yet he finds it sad that she had to be published abroad to win global acclaim.

Biafran soldier
Half of a Yellow Sun takes its name from the Biafran flag

Mr Mbachu and a small group of African writers have set up The New Gong publishing house to carry on from where Heinemann Books, which used to publish the African Writers Series, left off.

"Once they anoint you abroad, everyone back here follows. That is what we at The New Gong are trying to change; trying to give Africa back its voice," he told the BBC News website.

Mr Mbachu, who wrote War Games, a book also about the Biafran war, says Igbo writers' obsession with the Nigerian civil war is perfectly normal.

It is an indication that Biafra has not gone away, he says.

"After a war is fought, the victors immediately write their history. But it takes a while for the victims to find their voice and tell their own side story.

"The truth is that up till this day, the complete story of Biafra has not been told. You cannot talk about Nigeria without Biafra."

Award surprises Nigerian author
07 Jun 07 |  Africa
Author Adichie wins Orange Prize
06 Jun 07 |  Entertainment
Country profile: Nigeria
29 May 07 |  Country profiles

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