Chimamanda’s Americanah wins Chicago Tribune’s Heartland prize

Posted: July 19, 2013 in arts/culture

chimamanda ngozi adichieNigerian contemporary novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, Americanah, has been awarded the2013 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for fiction. The Heartland Prize is a literary prize created in 1988 by the Chicago Tribune Newspaper.

The prize is awarded yearly in two categories, fiction and non-fiction, to books that are concerned with American issues, causes and concerns.

“I’m very pleased,” Adichie said on receiving news of the prize. “You never know what will happen when you write a novel. And for me, a Nigerian, to have written this book which is partly about America, and to receive this quintessentially American prize means that I have said something about America as seen through Nigerian eyes that Americans find interesting. I take that as a wonderful compliment. It reminds me of the ability of literature to make us become briefly alive in bodies not our own.”

Adichie writes about two Nigerians: Ifemelu, a driven, gorgeous girl who leaves to study in America and her love, Obinze, a pensive, careful man. When bureaucracy keeps Obinze out of America, he falls into a dangerous life in London, while Ifemelu pursues an education and thrives as a blogger. After years spent an ocean apart, the two reunite, but their lives are not as carefree as they were when they were young.

One of the many ideas that Adichie’s book explores is that of American tribalism.

“I think if you (asked) the average American, ‘Is there tribalism in this country?’ they would say no, but I think America is quite divided in many ways,” Adichie said during a phone call from her Maryland home. “There is ideological tribalism, which is fascinating to observe how people on the political left and people on the political right sometimes seem to come from two different planets. I think there is also racial tribalism, so that race doesn’t seem to matter until it matters, and I think there is also class tribalism, which has become much worse in the past five years. … People belong to tribes and these tribes depend on things people have in common whether it is race, class or ideology.”

Adichie, a participant in the 2010 Printers Row Lit Fest, said she was surprised and overjoyed to hear she had received the Heartland Prize.

“I was particularly happy about this prize because it just seemed to me to be quintessentially American,” she said. “I don’t think I necessarily write about the heartland, I don’t know what the heck the heartland is, but I do think that I choose to see (this prize) as somebody saying to me that your book has said something about America. Something that is recognizable and something that is interesting and something about America that is worth knowing, and that is a huge compliment to me.”

Past fiction winners of the Heartland Prize include Jonathan Franzen for his novel Freedom and Marilynne Robinson for her novel Gilead.

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