Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie launches blistering attack on former student

Acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is slammed for saying ‘trans women are trans women’ by nonbinary novelist who accuses her of letting loose ‘transphobic hordes’ in public spat

  • Adichie, who has written novels such as ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ is one of the most popular authors in the world
  • She sparked controversy back in 2017, however, when she gave an interview some deemed transphobic
  • ‘I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women,’ Adichie said
  • The comments angered her former student and protégé, nonbinary author, and fellow Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi who attacked her on social media 
  • Adichie responded with an essay, which did not name Emezi, but criticized a former student for turning on her
  • Emezi wrote that the essay was meant to ‘incite hordes of transphobic Nigerians to target me’ 

Celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie launched an attack on a former student and protégé who she claims stabbed her in the back over comments she made that the young novelist found transphobic.  

Adichie said she’d taken fellow Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi, who is nonbinary, under her wing after noticing her talent when she joined her writing class in 2015.

The Half of a Yellow Sun author said she and Emezi became friends, and Emezi even credited Adichie and her writing class with her landing her first book deal.

But the pair fell out in 2017 after Adichie gave an interview where she said ‘trans women are trans women’ – something Emezi took offense to and publicly slammed her former mentor on social media as a transphobe and even went as far as to claim Adichie supported the ‘murder’ of trans children.

The feud was resurrected again last year when Adichie threw her support behind JK Rowling after she was accused of making transphobic comments – sparking more attacks from Emezi.

Yet in private, Emezi was desperately apologetic for insulting Adichie and appeared to be very keen to keep her as an ally, according to emails Adichie shared. 

Adichie responded by asking Emezi to remove her name from the bio of her debut novel, and on Tuesday, she slammed Emezi in an essay on her website where she criticized an unnamed former student.  

‘You publicly call me a murderer AND still feel entitled to benefit from my name?’ she asked.

‘You use my name (without my permission) to sell your book AND then throw an ugly tantrum when someone makes a reference to it?’ 

‘What kind of monstrous entitlement, what kind of perverse self-absorption, what utter lack of self-awareness, what unheeding heartlessness, what frightening immaturity makes a person act this way?’

Emezi responded to Adichie’s essay by taking to Instagram, saying, the essay was meant to ‘incite hordes of transphobic nigerians to target me.’ 

In an essay published to her website on Tuesday, Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie went after one of her former students for publicly attacking her

Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi took to Instagram to identify themselves as the likely target

Emezi had attended an annual creative writing workshop that Adichie hosts in Nigeria. 

Adichie explained that she helped the writer in their career, picking their story for an e-magazine after a workshop and writing ‘a glowing introduction, which the story truly deserved.’

In response, Adichie received an email that she published in her blog, dating back to August 2015.

‘Thank you so much for that introduction,’ Emezi wrote. ‘It means so much to me and I’m going to keep reading it to get through the rest of my stay at Syracuse. 

‘I sent it to my mother and she got nervous about the piece because you said ‘it disturbs’, said she’s not sure how she’s going to feel when she reads it. But she’s also one of those ‘let’s leave the past in the past’ people. My sister approved, which meant a lot because our childhoods were each other’s.

‘All that to say, I’m so grateful you gave me the space to write the short version of this piece, the encouragement to write the longer piece, and now, a platform for it. I definitely have plans to write more about Aba. Thank you, with all my heart.

‘PS- I wanted to sign off gratefully + gracefully in Igbo but I said let me not fall my own hand.’  

Adichie received another email a year later from Emezi about the publication of Emezi’s novel.

‘Greetings! I hope all’s been well with you this past year. Belated congratulations on the baby’s arrival, I hope she’s being a delight (I’m sure she is), and on the Johns Hopkins honors,’ Emezi wrote.

‘I was thinking about how this time last year, I’d just received the email from you about Farafina and I wanted to reach out with a quick update. I’ve just accepted an offer for the novel I excerpted as my application and it feels like the workshop was a catalyst for the events that’ve led me here. 

‘So, thank you, for the workshop and your words and the Olisa TV series and listening to me babble on about my story at the hotel. I deeply appreciate all of it and you.’

Adichie, who has written novels such as Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun, is one of the most popular authors in the world, celebrated by the likes of the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey.

She sparked controversy back in 2017, however, when she gave an interview saying, ‘I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women.’ 

‘My feeling is trans women are trans women,’ Adichie said in the interview. ‘I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences, it’s not about how we wear our hair, or whether we have a vagina or a penis, it’s about the way the world treats us.’

‘I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man, with the privileges that the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate to your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are,’ Adichie continued.

‘Transgender people should be allowed to be,’ Adichie added. 

Some viewed the comments as transphobic, including Emezi, souring the relationship between the two.

Emezi, who identifies as nonbinary, criticized Adichie for publishing private emails

Emezi also had thoughts on people in the industry who continue giving Adichie a platform 

Upon learning that her name was included in the book for Emezi’s debut novel, she emailed her representative, asking for it to be removed.

‘I’m writing about X … she attended my Lagos workshop two years ago and I selected hers as one of a few pieces I published after the workshop,’ Adichie wrote.

‘Apparently I was referred to as her “mentor” and/or she was referred to as my “protege,” in some articles, which led to her tweeting about it. Her tweets were forwarded to me by friends. 

‘In them, she reacted quite viscerally to my being called her ‘mentor’ and her being my “protege.” To be fair, she is not technically my “protege,” and it is perfectly fine that she feels this way, but her ungracious tone and the ugliness of the energy spent on her tweets surprised me.

‘I recently received her book and noticed that my name was included in her official book bio. I was stunned. Surely if she is so strongly averse to my being considered a person who has been significant in her career, (which is my understanding of the loose use of protege/mentor) then it is unseemly to make the choice to include my name in her bio. I found it unusual, as I don’t think I’ve seen it done before in a book bio, but I also now find it unacceptably cynical.

‘It is only reasonable for a person who sees my name as it is used in her bio — “her work has been selected and edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie” — to assume some sort of mentor/protege relationship.

‘To publicly disavow this with a tone bordering on hostility and at the same time so baldly use my name to sell her book is utterly unacceptable to me.

‘I’d like you to please reach out to her publishers and ask that my name be removed from her official book bio. I refuse to be used in this way,’ Adichie concluded. 

She later added, ‘I don’t think that is my decision to take, and so will not answer either way, although it would be ideal if she herself made the decision to do so.’

In 2020, Adichie defended an article from JK Rowling deemed transphobic by some as ‘perfectly reasonable,’ according to the New York Times, causing the feud to blow up once more.

After that, Emezi took their feud public, putting out a lengthy Twitter thread criticizing Adichie.

‘This is not the first time CNA has dismissed people’s condemnation of transphobia as ‘noise’—when you people ignored her transphobia to platform her in SA a few years back, she said the same thing because she gives no f***s about trans people or harming us,’ Emezi wrote on Twitter in November 2020

‘When she first made her transphobia public, I speak for those of us who genuinely loved and looked up to her, that s**t broke our hearts. Me, I had graduated from her workshop + published a whole piece about it, I actually developed my nonfiction voice there,’ Emezi continued.

Last year, Emezi shared their thoughts on Adichie’s public comments linked to ‘transphobia’

Emezi concluded, ‘To now know that people will happily throw trans people under the bus rather than hold her accountable for her views? To be reminded that for so many people, CNA is untouchable and trans people are not worth de-platforming her?’

Adichie appeared to be hurt by the criticism from Emezi because of their personal relationship. 

‘Here is the truth: I was very supportive of this writer. I didn’t have to be. I wasn’t asked to be. I supported this writer because I believe we need a diverse range of African stories,’ Adichie wrote.

‘Sabotaging a young writer’s career is just not my style; I would get no benefit or satisfaction from it. Asking that my name be removed from your biography is not sabotaging your career. It is about protecting my boundaries of what I consider acceptable in civil human behavior.

She went on to defend her 2017 interview comments, writing, ‘I said that a trans woman is a trans woman, (the larger point of which was to say that we should be able to acknowledge difference while being fully inclusive, that in fact the whole premise of inclusiveness is difference).’  

Last week, Emezi’s memoir ‘Dear Senthuran’ was published, bringing them back into the spotlight. 

Emezi’s (left) memoir was published last week. Previously, they received a request to remove Adichie’s (right) name from their debut novel because of the feud between the two

Adichie (right) is pictured with Michelle Obama during a London event in 2018

In her essay, Adichie, wrote: ‘There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness,’ she wrote.

Adichie, who has written novels such as ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ is one of the most popular authors in the world

‘People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship, and its expectations of loyalty and compassion and support, no longer matter. People who claim to love literature — the messy stories of our humanity — but are also monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy.’

Later in her essay, Adichie launched an even strong offensive against her target.

‘A person who genuinely believes me to be a murderer cannot possibly want my name on their book cover, unless of course that person is a rank opportunist.’

Adichie concluded her essay by touching upon cancel culture.

‘And so we have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow,’ Adichie wrote.

‘I have spoken to young people who tell me they are terrified to tweet anything, that they read and re-read their tweets because they fear they will be attacked by their own,’ she continued. 

‘The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. It is obscene.’

In Emezi’s Instagram story responding to Adichie’s essay, they wrote, ‘Adichie’s social capital originated from the publishing industry.

Emezi also had thoughts on people in the industry who continue giving Adichie a platform. 

‘You in the industry continue to platform her, laud her work with no mention of the harm her views inflict on the trans community, and on other writers,’ Emezi continued.

Neither person involved has publicly commented on their feud since it exploded this week. 

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