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.
In preparation for the discussion, we encourage you to listen to “The danger of the single story,” a 2009 TED Talk by Adichie, a Nigerian novelist. In it, she mentions the root of stereotypes and, by extension, inequalities between race, class, and gender, come mainly from what she called the “single story.” The “single story” only evaluates a character or an issue from one “single” side, eliminating any potential to sympathize with experiences different from our own and leaves more opportunities to misunderstand others. You can listen to the TED Talk HERE.
Mid-way through the talk, Adichie says:
It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another."Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. 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 become the only story.
Maybe more importantly, she raises the question of agency and who should be allowed to write "whose story." She continues that:
What if my roommate knew about my Nigerian publisher, Mukta Bakaray, a remarkable man who left his job in a bank to follow his dream and start a publishing house? Now, the conventional wisdom was that Nigerians don't read literature. He disagreed. He felt that people who could read, would read, if you made literature affordable and available to them...Shortly after he published my first novel I went to a TV station in Lagos to do an interview, and a woman who worked there as a messenger came up to me and said, "I really liked your novel. I didn't like the ending. Now you must write a sequel, and this is what will happen ..." (Laughter) And she went on to tell me what to write in the sequel. I was not only charmed, I was very moved. Here was a woman, part of the ordinary masses of Nigerians, who were not supposed to be readers. She had not only read the book, but she had taken ownership of it and felt justified in telling me what to write in the sequel.
What is the role of story telling in our society? Whose stories do we tell and whose stories do we remember? Please share your thoughts below, and join us tomorrow evening for an engaging discussion on Americanah and author Adichie!
Please note that Adichie will not be at this program.