Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Story


In telling a story, I touch upon the stories of others around me. Ownership of a story is a tricky business and so I have sought to minimize using names or identifiers to insure space for others' stories. We each have a version and a valid claim to a story, and we all want to share our stories in various formats- over coffee, in a blog, on the phone, over a beer, in an email, or at the kitchen table.

During my mama days in Japan I have at times longed for conversation in English and deeper thoughts as I have bumbled my way through alien cultural experiences and sat silently through conversations taking place in Japanese. Writing down my thoughts has allowed me to reflect upon them, sharing them over the internet instead of perhaps at the kitchen table has helped to keep me honest with myself, and the physical recording has allowed me to see and appreciate how complicated thoughts are as they vacillate from story to story- different experiences touch on different thoughts. One story is only one aspect of something, of someone.

A Single Story

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie spoke of the danger of a single story in her TED Talk lecture in 2009. It was the first time I thought about our assumptions when we only know a single story. She said, "So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become."

I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called American Psycho -- (Laughter) -- and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers. (Laughter) (Applause) Now, obviously I said this in a fit of mild irritation. (Laughter)

It would never have occurred to me to think that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. And now, this is not because I am a better person than that student, but, because of America's cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America. I had read Tyler and Updike and Steinbeck and Gaitskill. I did not have a single story of America.

Chimamanda Adichie

None of us have a single story nor a single dimension or side that explains our totality. We need all of our stories.


  1. Adichie is definitely going on my reading list. I feel my spine snap to attention whenever I hear someone talk about "how the Japanese think" or "the American perspective" as if there is anything remotely resembling a national viewpoint.

  2. I added the youtube link so if you want to see her speech, it is there.


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