For those of you who don't have time I'll give you a few highlights, but I really hope you will save this and go back and watch it when you can.
Adichie tells us that she started reading at a very young age, that she would read anything available to her, which for the most part was British and American literature. She also started writing at a young age. She says she always wrote about white protagonists who ate apples even though she was black and in her country they ate mangoes. The stories she read had taught her what she believed a story is supposed to look like, and what a story is not supposed to look like.
Later on she went to college in the United States where her roommate was surprised that she knew how to use a stove. She wrote a story about living in Africa and was told by her professor that her story was not authentically African because the characters drove cars and did not lead impoverished lives.
Her story is testimony to just how powerful fictional stories are in our society. This is something that I feel we as writers need to be aware of. We have a responsibility to do better than previous generations have to write stories that represent the beautiful diversity of the real world.
Take a moment to think about the last 5 books you read. How many of them featured people of color?? People of the LGBTQA community? Women? If there were characters featured, how were they depicted? Were they major or minor characters? What sort of agency was given to them? Did they comply with or break common stereotypes about the group they belong to? Now ask yourself the same questions about your own writings.
"Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, 'Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there's a black lady on television and she ain't no maid!' I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
Representation matters and we as writers play a crucial role. I know how unlikely it is that anything I write will ever become hugely popular or make any major waves in any of the movements. However, if even one person reads them I have the opportunity to make a difference in the mind of that one person. And on the off chance that something I write does take off, I want it to be something that everyone who reads it can relate to regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality.
It is easy to say that characters write themselves and it just so happens that none of them fit these images or that they just so happened to fit a particular stereotype, but all that does is reveal a writer's own prejudices. By writing stories without these types of characters, or with stereotypical versions of them, writers help- intentionally or not- to reaffirm oppressive ideologies that are very present in our society. And it needs to stop.