Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns about ‘epidemic of self-censorship’

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In 2020, Adichie’s 2006 novel Half Of A Yellow Sun was voted the best book to have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in its 25-year history.

In a lecture on freedom of speech, the writer said young people were growing up “afraid to ask questions for fear of asking the wrong questions”.

Such a climate could lead to “the death of curiosity, the death of learning and the death of creativity”, the award-winning Nigerian author warned.

“No human endeavour requires freedom as much as creativity does,” she added.

Adichie, known for novels including Half Of A Yellow Sun and Americanah, was speaking in the first of the four annual British Reith Lectures, all this year on themes of freedom.

She argued that Sir Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel The Satanic Verses would “probably not” be published today – something he himself said in 2012.

Earlier this year, Sir Salman was attacked on stage at a literary event. He suffered a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and lost sight in

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Book “Half Of A Yellow Sun”

an eye.

The Satanic Verses, Sir Salman’s fourth novel, led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s. Some Muslims regard the book as blasphemous.

“Would Rushdie’s novel be published today? Probably not,” Adichie said. “Would it even be written? Possibly not.”

She said literature was increasingly viewed “through ideological rather than artistic lenses”.

She continued: “Nothing demonstrates this better than the recent phenomenon of ‘sensitivity readers’ in the world of publishing, people whose job it is to cleanse unpublished manuscripts of potentially offensive words.

“This, in my mind, negates the very idea of literature.”

If any of the books that had “formed and inspired and consoled” her had been censored, “I would perhaps today be lost”, she said.

The 45-year-old also expressed concern that some people don’t speak up for fear of vicious criticism or becoming the latest target of cancel culture.

“We are all familiar with stories of people who have said or written something and then faced a terrible online backlash,” she said.

“There is a difference between valid criticism, which should be part of free expression, and this kind of backlash, ugly personal insults, putting addresses of homes and children’s schools online, trying to make people lose their jobs.

“To anyone who thinks, well, some people who have said terrible things deserve it – no. Nobody deserves it. It is unconscionable barbarism. It is a virtual vigilante action whose aim is not just to silence the person who has spoken, but to create a vengeful atmosphere that deters others from speaking.”

In 2020, Adichie’s 2006 novel Half Of A Yellow Sun was voted the best book to have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in its 25-year history.