How have your feelings about Half Of A Yellow Sun changed since its release 10 years ago?
It is still the book that has the most emotional meaning for me. I remember working on it in my flat in Baltimore for weeks at a time, not going outside, to the point where I was stunned by the sunlight when I did finally go out. I’ve never been in that sort of intense emotional place with any other book, so Half Of A Yellow Sun is very special for me. I honestly don’t know if I could write it today.
Why do you feel the story still resonates?
People often talk about it being “set in the past”, but the thing is, I don’t think it actually is. There is a lot that’s present in Nigerian society today that is rooted in that period around the Biafran War. As well as wanting to get historical details accurate, I wanted to write a book about human desire. All readers can connect to this, purely by being human.
You’ve been a powerful voice on gender equality and racism; do you feel progress has been made over the past decade?
I actually feel quite broken about all the racial strife in America at the moment. And now I have a daughter, it changes how I see things. How can I say to her, “This is a society that doesn’t value the lives of black people”, when I can’t explain this injustice to myself?
You recently said you kept your pregnancy a secret because today women are required to “perform motherhood”. Did you succeed in escaping other people’s scrutiny?
It was important to me that the birth of my daughter was only shared with the people I loved. We live in a society where strangers feel entitled to tell me how to be a mother, what to eat and so on. I also want to try very hard to make my child’s life normal. Ordinariness is a very lovely thing.
What are your thoughts on Jennifer Aniston’s recent comments on society’s expectations of women?
I really enjoyed, respected and admired her statement, and I think she’s absolutely right. This idea that marriage and motherhood is crucial to a female identity is so limiting. There’s just so much more that women need to be allowed to be. And equally, our culture doesn’t seem to celebrate fatherhood at all, and that’s very disturbing. I’m such a daddy’s girl, so close to him, so I really think from a personal space, fathers matter. I want to live in a world where parenthood isn’t gender-limited.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Love and War; 7.30pm; Sunday 7 August; from £12; Royal Festival Hall, London; southbankcentre.co.uk
Photography: Stephen Vos/Redux/Eyevine