Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria reading British and American children’s books. So when she began to write at the age of 7, she wrote exactly the kinds of stories she read. Despite never having traveled outside of Nigeria, Adichie wrote about white, blue-eyed characters who played in the snow, ate apples, and talked a lot about the weather.
“Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to have things with which I could not personally identify,” she says.
Things changed when she found African books. Although there weren’t very many, and they weren’t as easy to find, Adichie says African literature saved her from having a single story about what books are.
When Adichie moved to the U.S. to attend college, her roommate and classmates tried to hold to the single story of the entire continent of Africa that is presented to Americans. And when Adichie traveled to Mexico, she found herself fall victim to the single story of Mexico presented in America media coverage of immigration.
“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story the only story,” Adichie says. “The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
"Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity,” Adichie says.
This speech was given during a July 2009 conference for , a nonprofit "devoted to ideas worth spreading."