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tv   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  CSPAN  November 26, 2017 1:00pm-2:16pm EST

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cover. what it can mean for accessibility, mixed reality can mean for accessibility because exciting frontiers and things going to make us better ai company, a better devices company, a better everything company by sort of focusing in this area. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. .. >> good evening. good evening to each one of you. [inaudible] i want >> i would like to welcome you to trent a. i'm chairman of the board and director of the foundation. and also it is national advisory board. our mission is to preserve the literary legacy of eudora welty and encourage writers and
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readings of literature. the eudora welty is a collaborative enterprise is mission is to promote the love of ãbthis is may pass by generous contributions of martha dowd dowrimple. and also of her mother and grandmother and also by the family of eudora welty. in oapril 1983 eudora welty ga a series of lectures at harvard university and the lectures were collected as a volume of essays entitled one writers beginnings. published by the harvard university press, one writers beginnings stayed on the new york times bestseller list for almost a year. the s is detailed and
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inescapable bond between her childhood in her later career as a writer. have hurt your early experiences contributed to her extensive literary voice. her novels include, -- which ended up being on broadway as a tony award winning musical. and then she was also awarded a pulitzer prize for delta wedding, losing battles and the optimists daughter. eudora is a master of short stories and her stories are collected in many places but notably a curtain of green and the golden apples. she received more than 30 honorary degrees from institutions across our country. the pen/faulkner foundation foundation and the welty foundation asked writers to speak in their own words about
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the beginnings as a writer and what form the individual literary voices. the lecture will be an annual event here in washington. our inaugural -- i would like to thank nithe d.c. office of cable-television film, music entertainment and the arts and humanities for the gracious support of this event this evening. i would like to remind all of you to refrain from taking photographs during the lecture. and to please, turn off your cell phones so that you and no one else will be interrupting during the evening. it is my pleasure this evening to introduce mr. ralph eubanks who has the honor intern of announcing our guest electoral tonight. ralph was born and raised in a very small town of mount olive in south mississippi.
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he earned his undergraduate degree from the aversive mississippi and later amassed his degree in english and english language from the university of michigan. he is the author of two autobiography works. ever is a long time. a journey into mississippi's dark past. which a washington post critic thought was one of the best nonfiction books of 2003. more recently, he published the house at the end of the street. the story of three generations of an interracial family in the american south. he is the recipient of a guggenheim fellowship and has been a fellow at the new american foundation. he is the former editor of the virginia quarterly review. he has served as director of publishing at the library of congress for 18 years. his s essays and criticisms hav
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appeared in the washington post, the wall street journal, the american scholar, npr and the new yorker. last year, he was the eudora welty visiting scholar at millsaps college in jackson. and currently he is a visiting professor of ngenglish and southern studies at the university of mississippi in oxford. he calls himself, a born-again southerner. and in his own words, he says he maintains a skeptical eye. that serves as a faithful companion to his newfound intimacy with the south. i am proud to say that he serves as a member of the national advisory board of the eudora welty foundation. ladies and gentlemen, my good friend, mr. ralph eubanks. [applause]
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>> good evening and welcome to the second annual eudora welty lecture. it is a great pleasure to speak you tonight in ighonor of miss welty memoir. a book that served as a died as ever my oh my more, ever is a long time. it is also would like to introduce chimamanda ngozi adichie. a writer who, like miss welty used -- the geography and history and inevitably, the politics are a powerful presence in her fiction.
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for miss chimamanda ngozi adichie, the place is nigeria. one that seems distant from mississippi geographically and historically but is linked in unexpected ways. when speaking of eudora welty, my students always asked me, why i usually refer to her as ms. welty my response up until now would to say otherwise it would violate southern manners. since will never really acquainted. but tonight, i feel compelled to refer to her as eudora. as a longtime student and teacher of her work.i have gained a closeness with her through exploration with thmy students of the lyricism, the irony, the incisive description and narrative structure of both
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her fiction and her photographs. for a year, i even lived in the shadow of her house on pinehurst street in jackson, mississippi. while i taught at millsaps college. a place where she also taught writing. at that time, i came to think of eudora more is a neighbor than as a distant literary figure. so it is difficult for me to continue to be so formal. in her essay, she ponders whether works of literature should take crusading positions. the novelist works knowledge to correct nor to condone, not at all to comfort. but to make what is told a live, eudora wrote. yet, the novel is not a political or morally neutral genre. she continues. indeed, we are more aware of
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the novelists moral convictions through a novel than any flat statement of belief from her could make us. so your jerry believed that a novelist can contribute to social change. in a way that an editorial piece of journalism cannot. without a doubt, chimamanda ngozi adichie shares that belief with eudora. while eudora believe the novelist was not to say she believed a writer must have a point of view. position and perspective about the world. like eudora, chimamanda ngozi adichie also has a distinctive outlook that guides her fiction. in her work as a novelist and public intellectual, she has sought to make us think differently about africa. she is also compelled us to think about how we all can and
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should be feminists. in her fiction, she writes outside of herself. and creates real psychologic acuity to the interior and exterior lives of her characters.when you enter the world of her fiction, she provides the reader with a glasslike clarity of where you are. on the surface, the setting may seem unfamiliar. but she quickly places you in the world she has created. she also knows when to make her readers comfortable. as well as when to challenge them and push toward thought-provoking discomfort. miss chimamanda ngozi adichie has warned america's of the danger of a single story. the idea that people living in a certain area of aithe world have only one kind of experience. we in the west often
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understands the diversity of african culture. and her fiction has served as a clarifying porch to think differently about nigeria and postcolonial africa. it is her recognition of the danger of stereotyping a region that i believe also ties in with eudora. the american south has long been a region that wrestles with its place in the world. so it is no surprise that southerners often find themselves at odds with what it means to be southern. it was a familiar conflict for eudora. one that is represented in her story, where his the voice coming from? written on the night of the murder of a activist. she said she wrote it in anger. when she heard the news it occurred to her that she knew
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what was going on in the mind of the man who pulled the trigger. she knew because she lived all her life where it had happened. now, neither south nor africa's self referential perspective, competing narratives both inside and outside the regions are helpful in defining what either place is or what it means to be from that part of the world. both places are filled with continuity and their sense of place. as well as discontinuity and the ways that their sense of place is being transformed. interestingly enough, in reading her novel, americana, am reminded of another link between her work kand the american south. the character chimamanda she
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had -- when feminist struggles with what it means to be black in the united states, she is also struggling with an identity that has haits roots i the american south. the history of american blackness is a seven story. not nomerely as a racialized category, but as a cultural, political and economic identity. for generations, black americans, myself included, struggled to separate themselves from the hesouth. yet, the south has always been with us. as eudora once said, one place understood helps us understand all places better. since your work seems to be daunted by the spirit of eudora with the sense of place and a
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belief in female empowerment that i know she shared, i sincerely hope that after tonight, you, ms. adichie, will feel the same connection i feel tonight with my neighbor, eudora welty. it is my pleasure to present, chimamanda ngozi adichie. [applause] >> thank you. thank you, thank you all for being here. i am very honored to be here today in the shadow of a woman who was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
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and one whose work helped me better understand america. nigeria to ved from the us at the age of 19, to attend college, i began to read as much american fiction as i could. to make sense of this new country whose condors have been mostly formed in my imagination by films and television shows that i had watched. i still remember reading eudora welty short story, where is the voice coming from? which is a fictionalized account of the murder of the civil rights activist, medgar evers. in the story, the white man who murders the black activist goes home afterwards. and tell his wife what he has done. and his wife says, it's going to get him right back on tv. just watch for the funeral.
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that line did for me, the history books have not. it illuminated a particular white southern feud. of black americans. and i saw how dehumanizing a group of people turns your own humanity into a hollow shell. and i saw also what a powerfully change of the innocence, the grief, the resilience and in the face of monstrosity. that is the story of african americans in america. [applause] >> why i note eudora welty fiction, i was ashamed not to have read until recently, her beautiful memoir. not because it is so refreshingly lacking in the kind of irony and self
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questioning that contemporary memoirs seem to demand. i was struck by the clarity the certainty with which eudora welty seamlessly makes the link between biography and creativity. she recounts her mothers rambling friend who talked just for the sake of talking. and she connects this memory to her own use of monolog in her fiction. the trips she takes with her family are accounted not only in all their charming details, but also as insight into her own writing process. she sees those trips as stories. taking on direction, movement, change. i found this book fascinating and unsettling. because my own story of my beginnings is utterly lacking
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in clarity and certainty. because i have a contested relationship with the story of my own creativity. the reality of being a writer today is that it is no longer sufficient to write. you must also participate in the rituals of book promotion. now i should say that unlike some of my fellow writers who understandably hate public performance. i enjoy some of these outings. i enjoy some interviews and readings and conversations and i enjoy meeting rmy readers. but all of these performances and events involve a certain amount of explaining. the premise is that the writer knows herself knows her art.
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but the truth is that my fiction writing process is not always entirely conscious. i do not always know why. the great joy in writing fiction comes during the magical moments agof being transported, being blissfully lost in one's imaginative space. in those moments, they are difficult to distill into intellectually coherent explanations. and so, i have had to invent answers to the sorts of questions that writers often asked. about my process, my choices, my characters. in inventing those answers, sometimes i believe myself. and sometimes i don't. [laughter] >> it is in some ways like being your own psychoanalyst. which is not the most pleasant
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prospect really. so for me, the ideal is this. to read a piece of fiction and then talk about anything else but that piece of fiction. and then so i will speak of the home, family, church, school in my life. not because of how it shapes my writing but because i know they must have shaped it. i am the daughter of a professor. and for me to be any university anywhere in the world today, is to feel an immediate sense of millie arty. i grew up on the campus of the university of nigeria. in a small town in southeastern nigeria. it spread across undulating grounds, houses on tree lined streets. well tended hedges, it was a
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slow, small and lovely place. it's decline would come, starting with military dictatorship that stopped funding education. but my childhood in the early 1980s, was the last gasp of the universities sparkling age. at the main entrance of campus was a large gate.with security guards in uniform complete with berets. many of them, elderly men with gentle demeanor. and before each car drove through, the driver stopped. got out of the car and opened the trunk. the word trunk is an american concession. [laughter] >> when brought the age of about 11 or 12, my mother and father let me itcome
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out and open the trunk. it felt like a rite of passage to adulthood to responsibility. but checking cars as they drove in and out of campus, was really a simple of specialness. it said the campus was not part of the rlarger town. and it was not. it was a world of its own. it had a catholic church and a pakistan church. had the children's library, it had a well staffed medical center, a heprimary school for the children of the staff. it had a swimming pool and a tennis court. in a basketball court. when electricity was cut off, the campus generators came on. these privileges, i was fortunate to partake in. as children, we were seen and we failed to see.
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and so, we grew up with a sense of shortness of self. because our world saw us and acknowledged us. in my family, i was the child who wanted to know the story of who we were. i was a child who found romance in our history. who found nostalgia in the things not yet experienced. i was a child who sharpened very early on the skill of instructing. a past time in which i'm still quite good at. [laughter] >> at family gatherings, i felt a part of things.and yet, also ever so slightly removed from things. i do not know a time when i was not drawn to story. to human emotions. in human motivation. this is all i have ever known,
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this longing, this sense of being one step removed, one step apart and watching. , always watching. when i was five my father was appointed deputy vice chancellor of the university and he was assigned a new house on campus, number 305 margaret cartwright avenue. before my family moved in, the previous document happened to be in an odd bit of coincidence, but would later gain significance. there acclaimed writer -- who was also staff of the university. i did not think much of this since the university staff moved in and out of university housing. until years later, when my first novel was about to be published here in the us. my editor asked eme to tell he about my life. so that we can craft a bio. and i did.
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and then i added, by the way, i grew up in a house normally occupied by one of the greatest writers ldin the world. [laughter] >> and she said to me her eyes wide, that is the most interesting thing you have told me about yourself. [laughter] >> i then at that moment dissent to make sure this was always included in my file. [laughter] >> as one of my life split achievements. [laughter] >> i remember the house as it was then. the light blue two-story house and a large yard. the green hedge of whistling pine. the graveled driveway, the row of purple bougainvillea. -- the red and yellow roses
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from our mothers garage. the trees in the back. guava, mango, and the tall lonely -- the first time he saw the house, we looked at the living room, dining room, guest room ooand the kitchen. and then it was time to go upstairs. i began to cry when i saw the stairs. they looked insurmountable he high. di stood there and refused to climb them. finally, my big sister held my hand and we took it one step at a time until we got oto the top. but only weeks after we moved in, i was sliding on a pillow down the thbanister with my brothers. to see who could do it the fastest. i remember playing football with my brothers on the lawn
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and with empty milk cans placed. and badminton on the lawn. and we argued intermittently whether the shuttle had gone over under. i remember our gardener. his name was -- watering the plants with a metal watering can. and my brother following him around and later, he told me a story that our gardener told him. he used to have red eyes. because he had fought in the nigeria war and had killed people. and his eyes had turned red.ft but after the war, he had gone through a nscleansing ritual where he swore that he had not killed any innocent people. and his eyes consequently lost their redness. my brother must have been about 10. and i about seven. but this story has stayed with me. and was there in my
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consciousness as i many years later research and wrote my novel about the war. i remember the tree that we climbed and from which i once fell. the fall, the left a mark on my arm. and because i am spatially challenged, it is that mark that i now used to tell my left for my right. [laughter] >> i remember that the guava tree had a kind of elegant slouch to its branches. and the white fluffy chickens but in the market were tied to this before they were killed for sunday lunch. i remember riding my bicycle up and down the avenue. all of the other children love going downhill but i hated the loss of control. and so i went not fast and
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thrilled as they did. but slowly, carefully creating the bicycles breaks. i remember the disgustingly flat oversized cockroaches that crawled in with the rainy season. riand smelled utterly horrible. we called them american cockroaches. [laughter] >> true, i do not know why but true. they were not the usual smaller nigerian cockroaches. and i am not sure why they were called american cockroaches. perhaps, it simply makes sense to label anything american that is larger than normal. [laughter] >> i remember the veranda ooupstairs that looked across a our neighbors compound. my brothers and i would see
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people there. as a teenager i spied on the older boy with him i had a crush. when repairs retired from the university, years ago and moved out of the house, i went through a morning that even now, still feels. ... from my family, my parents and their six children. it was in that house t that i began to form a sense of self, and it was t in that house thati first began to read.
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reading was a lot of my childhood. i remember books as physical things, some with covers torn off, spines cracked. others with the transparent plastic cover from the library. i remember books as place, reading curled up in bed during the heavy rains. reading in the room r downstairs that became the family dumping ground. the sunlight alarmingly bright to the large windows. reading as i ate at the dining table. the books propped against the tall flask that was filled with water for tea. i remember books as consolation, and remember books as absolute luminous pleasure.
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i was an early reader and i read mostly british children's books. because of books ior came to log for certain things, ginger beer. the circus, picnics. i was also an early writer and the first stories i wrote were about white people in england who ate apples a and talked abot the weather. [laughing] because that was what the characters in the book i read did. it was as though i could not understand for the life of me what people actually said when they talk about the weather. in my world the sun was always out, except for when it rained, and then the sun was out again. but i was a child, and like all children i wasra vulnerable in e
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story. because i've not seen myself reflected in books, i did not think that people like me could be in books. my experience was not unique. because, in fact, it was ordinary. i've heard similar stories from people who grew up in kenya and sri lanka and jamaica and india. to be brought up educated in a poor colonial developing country is to encounter books as wonderful and fascinating and enjoyable, but fundamentally foreign. when did my review of literature expand? when did i learn that my stories were worthy of literature? when i i discovered of the kins of writing as an older child. beginning in writer -- translated into english as a
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child or the african child, remains one of the most beautiful books i have ever read in its beauty about a boy growing up in guinea. it was a glory of discovery. it was a book that was delicious, page by page but also kind of gesture of return to pride. it was a book that said, don't you dare to leave others peoples story of you. i love the books about able women, both familiar and exotic. there was a wonderful young adult, african series called the peace settlers. thrillers. in reading them i discovered the rest of africa. one, for example, was called meet me.
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for a long time that was african capital held a certain romance for me because of that book on the university campus, books drifted in and and out of room, borrowed and returned, creased and torn, passed around. i read everything, except for fantasy. the world seem to me so unknown and unknowable but it felt like an invasion tough to inhabit imaginary walls of the ministries of our own world were yet to be deciphered. i read every meals -- pecking away. i suspect some people have had the same experience. i read albert spears inside the third reich. i read anna karin renan and water babies in the loss of el
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dorado. like many in west africa i read every single book by james chase whose crime novels that such a choice titles like a hole in the head. [laughing] their worth sets in american had the own particular hard-boiled article of pics i was deflated to learn years later that nobody in america hadve ever heard of him. the romances of barbara cartland were everywhere on campus and i read them all. i remember one in which a woman's husband was assumed dead in the great war, and he turns up years later at their doorstep and she married another man who, of course, was his best friend. his name was charles and his hair had gone white indian changed terribly during the war,
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but she of course opens the door and knows right away that it's him. i am still genuinely affected by the book because in the melodrama was human truth. i had not yet been indoctrinated into the esteemed cult of literary snobbery. i did not yet know of that spirit is distinction made between commercial and stereo fiction. for me, the distinction was merely books that moved me, and books that did not. i read, too, about the catholic church. by public books about the church and, indeed, when there was nothing else to read i would dust them off and read them. because i grew up in the majority of people in my world -- ethnic tribalism was not the specter on campus. as no doubt it would have been
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had i grown up in the campus of one of nigeria's cosmopolitan centers. what we did have was religious tribalism. there was a catholic protestant divide. itself a colonial carryover, legacy of the competing missionaries, the irish catholics and the english anglicansli who divided as they converted. my fathers family had become roman catholic in theha 1920s with courage from attending the weddings of their anglican relatives. the religious tribalism was largely mind -- mild and for us children consisted of arguments on the playground about which church was better. i was merely always the spokesperson for the catholic side. because i had read big books and i could use big words that the other children did not
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understand. of course they didn't know that i hardly understood those words myself. and then that word i loved upon discovering, , apologist. i considered myself at the age of 12 a proud catholic apologist. apologist. i read books to find out how to argue the catholic case, for the blessed virgin and for celibate and the bible traditions. and today i can still quote the bits of scripture the back of a very catholic sacrament of the anointing of the sick. don't tempt me. [laughing] my families catholicism was moderatemo but conservative. the african permutation of romantic catholicism was it subtle and not-so-subtle
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disparagement of pre-christian africa. to be baptized you had to choose an english name because english was christian and african languages were not, apparently. we went to mass every sunday all dressed up, and after mass we took a drive to town to buy snacks ando newspapers. mass fascinated me. the drama, the colors, the rituals. at easter i cried during mass at nights when people lit candles and then raise them up in the dark and it felt like a sea of stars. i knew the words the priest said at mass and it sometimes repeat them under mynd breath. sometimes i even wondered -- wanted to be a priest. not the none which seem to be a subservient monochromatic role
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devoid of the power and the drama that seems seem to come naturally with the priesthood. i was fascinated by faith, but if you have what people believed and what it can make into. and my first novel would be about this, among other things. i see now have similar fiction and faith are. even have intertwined. fate is a form of fiction, and fiction requires faith. both have no need for proof. i asked questions about catholicism am about doctrine, religion, about god. at questions were asked of adults in my family, in class and that confession, all in the service of defending catholicism. but soon as a young teenager my questions became more about
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understanding, about doctrine that seem to me to contradict the idea of a just and loving god. this kind of questioning made adults uncomfortable. often was met with sears strategies of silencing. when i did get answers i found many of them unsatisfactory, too simplistic, or quite simply nonsensical. and i did not understand the stop and refusal on the part of adults to admit ignorance or incompleteness on matters of faith. i began then to recognizing myself a string of resistance, a distrust of whatever seemed glib. and i think that this would looking at the world has deeply informed my writing. on campus all the catholic
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children went to catechism classes three times a week until such a time as they took the examination. it was very exciting. her mother tooko you to the market to buy white fabric for a dress and white fleece for a bail, then to the taylor to make the dress. you barely slept that night because you were delighted and afraid to finally having that small white circle of bread in your mouth, the host as it was called. and you kept in mind all the stories yet been told about the host, , spatial the story about the child who h stole one host d took it home only for the room in the house to suddenly be chilled with blood. [laughing] i thought the host would not like ice on my tongue, and when finally i received communion it's dry papery texture -- [laughing]
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-- was a disappointment to me. but this story is really about dogs and memory. to prepare for first holy communion with the catechism alone because my brother had already received his first holy communion, and my other brother was not yet old enough for catechism. the church was a 20 minute walk from home. so i would set off in the afternoon wearing a day dress, rubber slippers and the requisite scarf for every visit for church girls and women were scars. but each catechism day filled me with trepidation because i would have to walk past the house and they had dogs that lay sprawled in front of their house. fierce dogs that were known to be poorly trained. and so one afternoon i was walking past, terrified, my face resolutely turned away from their house, but i heard the
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dogs growl. once and then again. and i sensed rather than saw one of the dogs flight off, and my body suddenly became very light, so iran. this is a very clear memory i have running down the street pursued by a dog. i did not know i i was screamig as a ran until i dashed into our compound and my mother who had just driven in the standing by her car said, is that why you're screaming and running down the street, just because of a dog? i thought she should of been more sympathetic. [laughing] actually, she said it in -- which even sounded less sympathetic.c sympathy came, however, in her putting in the car and taking me to church.
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when i recounted this story years later, having been asked why i was afraid of dogs, my brother told me that my scarf hady flown off my head as i ran that he went back later and picked it up from the street and brought it home for me. i did not remember this at all, but i added that detail to my memory of that day and i have a memory as a kind of collective sculpture.e. when i read about jim joyce fear of dogs had himself been pursued as as a child i felt strangely confident. i was a child with many questions, and i was educated in a system in which questioning was not necessarily rewarded. in secondary school i always got straight a's in my subjects, which would appease any parent,
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each last day of term my stomach would tighten with anxiety because my teachers often w rude comments about what they termed my lack of respect. and these comments always got me in trouble with my parents. i still have not forgiven those teachers. [laughing] lack of respect was really my curiosity, my asking questions, my taking delight in intellectual argument comp my refusal to accept easy answers, my reluctance to perform a certain kind of exaggerated deference. my teachers, i felt, should not have punished me for this. i suspect that this particular resentment, this sense of self-righteous in fairness that i felt, has propelled some of my rising. i do see now looking back that i could very well have been a bit
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of an annoying child, and yet i wished adults who had authority over me in school had no how-to guide my question, how to encourageng my curiosity. i did have some wonderful teachers who did that. there were exceptions. there was a gentle, wonderful teacherre who let me write plays and to encourage my writing and myn reading. she said to me once, you feel things to strongly, and there was a wistful sort of sadness in her eyes as though she knew that this would be both a blessing and a curse, that it would infuse my writing but also it would lead to that curse of depression. there was also the wonderful
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teacher, brilliant english teacher in secondary school who encouraged my love of english. she read my essays, encouraging and guiding me. so great was her faith in me that she would ask a in class, a few people will get it wrong, then she would invariably turned to me and say, tell them. [laughing] her confidence in me made me want tor] be better, but it also lived in secret terror am imagining that day when i would not in fact, know the correct answer. i was drawn early on to language and to languages. i grew up both of my first language is but we were not allowed to speak it in school. it was called speaking in the
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vernacular. even the word vernacular is wrapped in shame. i look back now at the absurdity of it and also the great sadness of it, howow colonialism most insidious legacy is its ability to make you denigrate that which is yours. my nigerian education was exclusively in english, it was considered terribly uncool to take it as a subject but i did come up until the senior senior secondary school level and theyi got the highest grade. i enjoyed it, learning the language i spoke, although written was a different version of what i spoke at home. but it remains for me the language of family, the language of informality. i cannot make a philosophical argument because my education did not give me the tools, and i
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regret this very much. i do is important for me from the beginning to show in my writing but to language were characters spoke as did many people i grew up with, both languages and sometimes both languages in the same sentence. editors, mostly american editors, often tried to get me toen take out it in my fiction,r to tone it down for two over explained. i always chose not to. trying to show the texture of my world was important to me and was important for the integrity of my fiction. and perhaps a look also to political and emotional claim but above all else a truthful claim that both languages belonged to me, that both languages are fully mine.
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my father speaks edo beautifully and he's our radiant storyteller. he told stories most of his childhood, so often through the years that i came to know the stories myself and i would sometimes reminding of detail he had omitted from a previous version. my grandfather who died during the war and whom i never knew came startling alive through my fathers storytelling. i deeply enjoyed spending time with my family, my parents and siblings, listening to my father past.up the he spoke always in edo except for when he had to explain a particularly complex above the level we each spoke. he would then switch to english. i loved the anecdotes, the proverbs, the wit, the humor. and i would soak them all up,
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absorb them, store them. and as i became old and at the to feel a sense of pride about the culture from which these stories came, pride that i came from a wise and humors and enterprising and kind people. but the best place to listen to spoke spoken edo was in my ancestral hometown. my village. like most families we had two homes. one in the town where he lived and where my parents worked and other home in my fathers and special hometown. at this home our ancestral hometown that we journeyed at christmas, easter and some weekends or for short stays when we children were in holiday from school. ancestral house was an old lovely rumbling two-story building and close my semen walls, the red gates, the sandy
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yard that was particularly good for playing. orange trees, the little orchard of an increase in the back. once my mother attempted the planting of flowers in our yard, but some straight goose made their way into our compound when the gate men neglected to close the gate. and these resourceful animals saw in the red and yellow flowers in perfectly colorful feast. and so that was that for flowers in the village. pythons were sacred in my part. my sister told me the story of a python found curled and my grandmothers outhouse years before ihe was born. my sister was terrified, but my grandmother merely walked into the bathroom and spoke in chocolate tones to the python, asking you to please leave sauce or not to scare the children.
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the python then andnd curled itself in slid away. there were many other stories i heard in the village about life in the village, of people who -- of people whowf turn into anima, people whose bodies were hard as metal and impervious to weapons, people who we i do sacred nighty meetings at the bottom of the sea. when they discovered years later the genre of writing called magical realism, , i felt immediately suspicious, because i knew very intimately this world with a magical is not considered magical at all, butwh merely ordinary, merely a part of life. at christmas that big masquerades the appeared in the village and children were filled with excitement and going to see them. but girls i was told he not see the most exciting masquerade.
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why, i asked? will, because they are girls. the unfairness of this has stayed with me and i began early to question and argue about the need to discard the parts of my culture that diminish the humanity of women. and that arguing, questioning process remains ongoing. still, today, to be back in my ancestral hometown is to feel a sense ofy an almost belonging. it is quite simply home. it is where my great grandmothe grandmother, i'm supposed be hep incarnation, lived. it is where i want to be buried. i like to think that this metaphysical rootedness of
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physical place acts as a supreme court for me and for the work, andnd enables me ultimately to feel comfortable in any part of the world. when we first moved to number 305, i shared the biggest room upstairs with my brothers. it had three beds, dressers, a wardrobe. it did not have a desk or it lt out to the veranda. the veranda had a second door that led tod the study. my fathers dusty layer line with shelves of statistic journals and dominated by a larger desk. the desk was cluttered with files, books, paper clips, pens, and in the farthest corner, a black rotary phone. i wonder now why the phone was kept in the study instead of
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similar mutual i downstairs. but it was, and so throughout secondary school i i had uncomfortable phone conversation with friends while my father sat there marking students assignments. [laughing] i wrote my first book at the age of eight on that desk in an exercise book titled down mcintosh lane those early books had characters who invariably have blue eyes and were called and work at the end of dogs called salt. at 13 i sit up two phones i'd written to s a magazine. this magazine did not publish poetry. it was a gossipy cultural weekly. but my sis is rated and so is always in our home. the editor must've been so startled by those poems and by my cover letter stating how old i was, that the poems were
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probably published in the next edition. at 17 iar wrote a play and sent off to reputable publisher, and i was gratified when it was accepted for publication. and then there was a poetry collection that i called my anthology of 100 poems. my mother asked her secretary, a tall warm and vicious man called john to type them up and have them bound in a manuscript. john, my mother later told me, did not mind at all that he had to type up the teenage poetry. she knew because he read them aloud as he typed, and at the end he told my mother with delight -- let's wait and see what this child will become.
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when at the age of ten ten i ho have an appendectomy, i was taken to the university of nigeria teaching hospital, and i stayed away from school for more than a week after the surgery. i was thrilled by this pic becausehi it meant time to do nothing but right. what do you want me to bring for you, my sister asked me right after s the surgery? and i was supposed as for all the things i might not ordinarily get without the benefit of being sick, suites and biscuits and licorice. but it asked for exercise books, as many as she could bring because i intended to fill them up with writing your .. there ae confused, exercise book is really a notebook and has nothing to do with actual exercising. [laughter] i wrote on my hospital bed and there was an element of
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subversion in the >> scheduleed the sensible thing, h have cool. and leta, when i was briefly in medical school which i applied for because anyone who does well in school in nigeria is expected to become a. >> -- [laughter] i would write short story narratives, and i felt then, too, that element of subversion. my family was supportive of my writing, but it was understood and unspoken that this was not a potential career. it was something you did in addition to your career. i was, for example, in the young writers' club in primary school, and this was very much encouraged by my parents. but my grades and my subjects came first before anything to do with the young writers' club. at home i wrote at the dining table when i could not use the study desk, because my father
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was working or because a sibling was on theat phone. the dining table -- light green and long -- was sometimes used by my brother and his friends when my parents were out as a table tennis table. it was also the family dumping grown of newspapers -- ground of newspapers and university circulars and wedding invitations and bananas. and the tiny ants that lived underneath it appeared after breakfast to crowd around bits of sugar. i always cleared a space for myself at one end, opposite the grand old wood-paneled air conditioner which was used so rarely that a puff of dust always burst out first before cool air followed. i remember that we seemed to put it on only during birthday parties, and it was noisy. it made e a loud whooshing sound. and so during birthday parties
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when the parlor was full of friends, there was always that loud vacuum-like sound of the air conditioner in the background. my a brothers and i had separate rooms after our older siblings left home. mine had a girlish table where i displayed my lotions and my powder compacts. it still did not have a desk. in 199 7 i left home to attend college in america. when i returned four years later with the final page proofs of my first novel, my parents had put a writing desk in my room. it was square and sturdy, and i spread out my page proofs and edited them there. a few years later when i was writing my second novel, "half of a yellow sun," i knew i needed to go to my hometown to smell the dust, to interview my regulartives that survived the -- relatives that survived
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the war. and and i also needed to be in the house that nurtured me. when i returned this time, my parents had installed an air conditioner in my room. the light blinked when i turned it on. i don't know if that's a sign, but i'll be done soon. [laughter] i sat at that desk and i wrote long chapters of "half of the yellow sun," and from time to time i would look out at the very rank da, no longer -- veranda where years of rain had stilled the floor a dull gray. it is now almost ten years since i was last in that house. i remember my very last night there. my participants had gone -- my parents had gone to bed. there was a power failure. i didn't know how to turn on the generator, but i knew that there were candles in the cabinet downstairs. and so ine the pitch blackness,i
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walked from my room down the stairs into the dining room to find a candle in the cabinet. and i did not stumble once. thank you. [applause] [applause] >> thank you for inspiring us with your story. bringing us the past and present, the question of your creative beginnings; the why,
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theni where in this second annul uedora welty lecture. i'm darlene taylor, executive director of the pen/faulkner foundation. on behalf of our board and our partner in hosting this lecture, i t thank each of you for joinig us here tonight in this historic washington building, a place with its own story known for its celebration of black culture and music,, the black broadway. a place that provided a home for the voices of some of america's most talented or artists. being here you feel the convergence of past, present, sight and sound. and the voices linking us in a potential way. this is -- in a special way. this is a thrilling night for us. a hall of more than 1200 people excited about literature and a writer's creative journey. thank you all for sharing that
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love of literature. at pen/faulkner our mission is to create a lifelong love of literature, so thank you for joining us. and we work to build new audiences for contemporary fiction. theo eudora welty lecture is a unique format and brings the most acclaimed writers to washington to share their stories of their beginnings. this is the first of pen/faulkner's literary conversations for this season, and we hope you've enjoyed this and will join us again. i close by saying again, thank e many people who make it possible for us to be here, the d.c. office of cable television, film, music and entertainment, the d.c. commission on arts and humanities, our mayor, muriel becauser, and the team at the lincoln theater. thank you for your graciousness inea welcoming us into your hom. and and also my colleagues at
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pen/faulkner, our chair, susan, and president jenny, the welty foundation and the volunteers who helped us tonight. thank you to c-span and to d.c. cable for bringing this important literary conversation to many more thousands of readers who are outnt there. good night. [applause] ♪ ♪ >> the book is race, class and
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politics in the cappuccino city. what is this book about? >> this book is about washington, d.c., but it's also about the transformation of cities across the united states. we've got a back to the city movement that's happening, young white millennials want to be downtown, they want to be as close to their jobs, they want to walk and bike to work. when they come downtown, they all can't afford downtown, so they're moving to neighborhoods that are low income just on the periphery of downtown in many cities across the united states. these are areas that were once concentrated with poverty and public housing, and they're redeveloping. and the downtowns are, they -- the millennials are the white foam milk coming into the espresso and forming the cap chien know city. -- cappuccino city. and gentrification is gone wild in washington d.c. between 2000 and 2010, 62% of
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the low income census facts in washington, d.c. gentrified. and this book is trying to understand the processes and dynamics related to the back to the city movement and the gentrification wave that we're having in our nation's capital, but also how can we redevelop in a way that benefits the lives of low income people. and the book really looks at low income people who are able to stay in place with affordable housing policies and seeing if their lives and life chances are improving with this redevelopment. and for many of them, it is. but for many of them, even though they're able to stay in place and they haven't been residentially displaced, there are feelings of political displacement, cultural displacement and resentment. and this book is about how do we ease tensions in our mixed-race, mixed-income communities and make integrative communities the type of communities that are sustainable and equitable and that work for all people. >>
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>> with a city like d.c., do they welcome jebtlyification? >> yeah, i think because there are so many properties that are not taxed in washington, d.c., the city needs to get revenue. and the way they get tax revenue is trying to stimulate redevelopment. anthony williams was the mayor in the past in the 2000s, and he call for trying to bring back 100,000 residents to the district. 100,000 residents have come, but with that has come the gentrification. and so now d.c. is on strong financial footing. it has a $14 billion annual budget, and the question is can that budget be spent in a way that is more equitable. can we grow the pie and more equitably distribute it. and that is a case to be seen in d.c.'s future, and it's one that i hope that the city government here puts in policies that broadens the social safety network so that all people can benefit. d.c. has grown economically in
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the last 10-15 years, but so has income inequality along racial lines. and now it's time for the city to put in policies that narrows the gap between the rich and the poor in this city. >> so what would you say are some of the policies that would kind of counteract what gentrification does for lower income neighborhoods? >> i mean, step one is we've got to prevent residential displacement. so we've got to bolster affordable housing. in d.c. they have a $100 million affordable housing trust funds. most cities and most states don't even have that. in d.c. we have the financial capacity to double that. that would keep more people in place as other neighborhoods in the city start to gentrify. but we've got to go beyond housing. we've got to deal with political and cultural displacement and also micro-level segregation. in the neighborhoods that look diverse on the street in washington, when you delve into civil society, they're segregated. and we have to grease the wheels
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of integration in our nixed-income, mixed-race communities. so we need nonprofits that actually focus on bringing people together. in the united states, we've been segregated for so long, we still have a lot of mistrust among different racial and ethnic groups. so we need to spend money onion profits that actually -- on nonprofits that build bridges in our mixed-income and mixed-race communities. affordable housing policies, yes, we need to do, but we also need to do social building and community building to make these communities work, again, for everybody. >> do you think washington, d.c. is unique in how it has handled this gentrification compared to other cities? >> i don't know if washington, d.c. is unique in how they've handled gentrification, but they are unique in that the magnitude and intensity of gentrification is pretty incredible. in the '90s, only 5% of the housing track gentrified in
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washington d.c. in 2000, over 52% did. if you look at the most gentrified places since 2000 in the united states in the top 50 cities, portland, oregon, is number one. d.c. is number two. so there's been a tremendous amount of redevelopment that has happened here, and i think that's in part what makes d.c. very unique. >> what do you hope people take away from reading your book? >> i hope that they realize, you know, we don't want to replicate the old urban renewal, and in the 1940s and '50s, we just displaced. in the '90s, 2000s, 2010s, i hope we sort of look at preventing residential displacement but also moving beyond housing and doing things that will actually better the lives of low income people. just -- we made the assumption in the '90s and 2000s if we did mixed-income housing and deconcentrated housing by bringing upper income people into low income spaces, that that would magically benefit low
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income people. i think that was a faulty assumption. and we needed to go beyond housing and do social programs that actually help better the lives of low income people and help sort of low income people, middle income people and upper income people see that there's more similarities among themselves than differences. and we really haven't done the social building. we really just focused on housing policy, and we've got to go beyond that to make mixed-income, mixed-race p communities work and be sustainable and equitable over the long haul. >> every weekend booktv offers programming focused onion fiction authors and books. keep watching for more here on c-span2 and watch any of our past programs online at booktv.org. [applause] >> good evening. welcome to another evening at live talks los angeles. by a show of hands, i'm always curious, how many of

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