The lift deposits me into the middle of a throbbing crowd on the top floor of the Royal Festival Hall. Confused, I ask the person in front of me if I am in the right place. Yes, the young woman assures me, this is the BBC World Service recording of an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Adichie has been highly acclaimed by critics and reviewers, and judging by the throng, it seems the public concur. After the recording there is a long queue of eager, autograph-seeking fans. Adichie greets each of them warmly, signing and writing personal messages in piles of books.
This scene repeats itself everywhere Adichie goes in Britain and America: her audience is huge, diverse and star struck. Despite being only 32, she has been prolific, with two award-winning novels under her belt (the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-winning Purple Hibiscus and the Orange Prize-winning Half of a Yellow Sun), plus a recent collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, as well as several essays. Her achievements have also been acknowledged by America’s MacArthur Foundation fellowship, which endorsed her as a ‘genius’ in 2008.
She asserts that she writes the kind of fiction she likes to read: social realism, character-driven, a bit melancholy. Indeed, her fiction focuses on the impact of world events, emigration and dislocation on ordinary Nigerian women’s lives. But her writing is more than just melancholic story-telling, it is also a lesson in the craft of writing. Her ability to draw powerful characters in a single sentence, without losing verisimilitude, is a testament to her skills of observation and is an inspiration to every student of creative writing. Her cool, detached exploration of both domestic life and world events bridges the cultural divide between her Western readership and her Nigerian characters with an effortless grace. And so it is that when I ask to interview her for Writers’ Hub, she accepts with a graceful smile.
A graduate of a creative writing programme (she received an MA from John Hopkins University, in 2003) she is unusually reluctant to consider aspects of her craft. She seems to prefer the title "story-teller" to "writer", almost as if her writing, about which critics have been so complimentary, is a happy by-product of her story-telling efforts rather the result of hours of work. "I do not like, in general, to analyze my creative choices. It leads to a kind of hyper self-consciousness that I would rather avoid."
She is even vague about how her fictions might begin: "It depends on the piece really – it can be something somebody said to me, something I read, something I remember of my own personal experience." Her techniques for invoking the muse? "I eat ice cream. I read books I admire." She says she likes to read everything, although confesses to not being very keen on fantasy.