She may have been the guest of honor at Institute Français's La Nuit des Idees event Thursday night, but Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was treated with anything but when a French journalist asked the award-winning author of Americanah if Nigeria has bookstores. Yes, you read that right: a professional reporter asked an accomplished Nigerian author if the most populated country in Africa has bookstores in it. In 2018. Luckily, she had the perfect response to the outrageous implication.
A celebration of "the stream of ideas between countries, cultures, topics and generations," the Institute Français's third annual La Nuit des Idees (The Night of Ideas) went from a joyous occasion meant to honor Adichie and her literary contributions to the most awkward and outrageous interview of the year. During a discussion of Adichie's "commitments to the fight against inequality between men and women, her convictions with respect to the role that African countries should play in globalization," and more, French journalist Caroline Broué asked the bestselling author what became a controversial question about whether or not Nigeria has librairies. (When translated into English, the French word librairies translates to "bookstores," but Adichie's answer to Broué's question addressed libraries.)
Naturally, things got really uncomfortable, really quickly. See for yourself in the video below:
After pausing for a brief moment to hear Broué's question translated into her earpiece, Adichie was quick to respond with confirmation. "We do, shockingly," she told Broué.
Following the author's response, onlookers chimed in with a mix of applause directed toward Adichie and disapproving boos directed toward Broué. At this point, the interviewer doubled down on the line of questioning, and explained that, according to her, people in France don't know alot or speak very much about Nigeria. She insisted that the French people associate the African country with things like Boko Haram and violence.
The feminist icon responded that she believed the question "reflects very poorly on French people." Adichie went on to explain how outrageous that kind of thinking is in 2018 before sharing how honored she feels to know that her work is read by the people about whom she writes. As if to further illustrate how far off Broué's line of questioning was, Adichie even shared a touching story about her first event for Half of a Yellow Sun in Lagos, where a full house of engaged readers argued over her book and Nigerian history.
Her response was met with cheers and applause from the audience at the event, but they weren't the only ones to show support for the author and her response. Fans quickly took to Twitter to criticize Broué's for her race-based assumptions and to encourage other interviewers and members of the media to be better prepared in the future:
Since the publication of her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been heralded as one of the most prolific literary voices of her generation, and many critics credit her for introducing a whole new group of diverse readers to African literature. Despite her many accolades and accomplishments, however, the Nigerian author, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, and National Book Critics Circle Award winner is still met with ignorance, even in the most professional spaces.
It is sad to think that, in 2018, a professional member of the media is both unaware of the realities of a country like Nigeria, and unwilling to do research about it outside of her own assumptions. Luckily, Adichie handled the uncomfortable moment perfectly, reminding fans exactly why she is one of the queens of modern literature.