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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Feminism and Motherhood Aren’t ‘Mutually Exclusive’

Aug. 8, 2016

The 'Half of a Yellow Sun' writer shared how parenting has changed her

In the 10 years since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Half of a Yellow Sun won the Orange Prize, the Nigerian author has had that novel turned into a movie starring Thandie Newton, won a MacArthur Genius grant and had her TEDx Talk on feminism sampled by Beyoncé, which have cemented Adichie’s status as a globally prominent public intellectual.

Adichie, 38, also recently had a baby—a pregnancy she managed to keep secret from the media. She slipped the news into an interview with the U.K.’s Financial Times in June, during which she criticized living “in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy,” and refused to reveal any further details including her daughter’s name.

On Sunday, Adichie spoke about how being a mother has changed her.

“I still look at [my daughter] in absolute wonder and I think ‘You’re really here and you’re really mine,'” she told Ted Hodgkinson, senior programmer for literature and spoken word at London’s Southbank Centre. “She really is the most beautiful human being in the world.”

Adichie added that there are some issues she is now far more worried about since becoming a mother. “I care about equality and justice and peace in the world, but now I really want it,” she said. “I want my child to live a world that is better than the world I lived in. I think that’s why thinking about what’s happening in the U.S. and Nigeria terrifies me.

“When writing a character, you are that character’s god, but you are not your child’s god,” she continued. “So I get to determine the destiny, to a certain extent, of my character, and I can’t do that for my child. I think that’s both the magic and terror of being a parent.”

The TIME 100 honoree seemed surprised when a member of the audience asked her whether has experienced a tug of war between being a feminist, a mother, a daughter and a sister.

“Feminism is not a cloak that I put on on certain days and take off on certain days,” she responded. “I did not get the memo that says men and women are not equal. Being a mother, sister, daughter is not mutually exclusive.”

During Adichie’s conversation with Hodgkinson, attended by roughly 2,500 people, she generally avoided the topic of politics, but was quick to note: “I’m quite struck by how quick the British are to point out racism in America—look in your own backyard”.

She also added that she was disappointed by the Nigerian accents in the movie version of Half of a Yellow Sun, directed by Nigerian filmmaker Biyi Bandele.

“I liked it, the director is a good friend and someone I trusted,” she said. “But I slightly mourned the fact the Nigerian accents were not right.

Adichie added: “At the end [of the movie] I was crying—I wrote the novel but I was still like ‘What’s going to happen in the end?'”

Although she was not involved in the production “at all,” Adichie is planning to have more of an input in the screen version of Americanah, Adichie’s 2013 novel, which Lupita Nyong’o has optioned the rights to.