6 Things We Learned from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Trevor Noah at PEN World Voices Festival

Global African stars, South African-born host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show Trevor Noah, and the Nigerian-born National Book Award winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie openly discuss straddling multiple cultural identities at the sold out PEN World Voices Festival.

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An event that includes 150 authors and artists from all over the world in this moment of unprecedented threats to freedom and truth—and of emboldened mobilization and resistance—and examine bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia and to bolster the movement to counter them.  Exploring the theme Gender and Power, these events celebrate the transcendent power of art to enable people to see beyond their differences.

Noah posted this on Instagram saying, I’ve learned so much from this amazing woman’s work but I never knew we’d have so much fun debating, arguing and laughing.

1. Adichie considers herself a Nigerian when living in America.

When the moderator prefaced a question mentioning that Noah and Adichie are both African immigrants, Adichie says,

“My sensibilities were largely shaped by Nigeria.  I didn’t come into the U.S. until I was 19. There’s a kind of distance it affords me when I look at the U.S.”

2. Noah had to shift his experiences of blackness to live in two cultures.

Noah explained in depth how he had to make a shift when he moved to the U.S., because his experience of blackness in South Africa was more nuanced. Oddly enough, America also felt very familiar to him at the same time.

“The U.S. was a weirdly familiar place for me because it feels sort of like home, but not. I had experienced blackness in all its forms—blackness didn’t mean one thing to me. Black had no connotation—black can be late, black can be on time, black can be poor, black can be rich, black can be the criminal, black can be the judge.”

3. Adichie feels cares about and feels connected to being Pan-African

When asked if her novel, Americanah, is a Pan-Africanist book, Adichie took the time to discuss what Pan-Africanism is to her.

“I think myself politically as Pan-African. And for me, that means I care about what’s happening in Kenya, I care about the people in Bahia, Brazil, I care about Afro-Colombia, because there’s a familiarity there to something I feel connected to.”

Her thoughts on African American History.

“African-American history didn’t start on a slave ship, it started in Africa.  I believe there are cultural traditions that have been passed down, and diluted, but it’s still there.”

4. Kat Williams was the only person that laughed at Noah’s jokes when he first started stand-up in Los Angeles.

“I used to do stand-up at an event called ‘Chocolate Sundays.  I walked on stage and the audience looked at me like I was about to introduce the comedian that the host introduced. I’ll never forget that no one laughed, except one person in the balcony—and it was Kat Williams.”

5. Adichie discovered she was black when she came to America.

She discussed her experience in her undergrad class, writing her first essay.  The professor said it was the best essay and wanted to know who wrote the essay and to raise their hand.  When she raised her hand the professor looked surprised. She says,

“Thats when I realized he didn’t think the person who wrote the essay was black.”

Check out the excerpt of Adichie and Noah discussing their revelations.

6. It took time for Noah to realize the difference between a black and white room.

“It took me too long to realize that in a black room, we were laughing at our thing.  In the white room, I was giving them the license to laugh at black people. I had to be careful of what I share and where. Where you give it away could create a different connotation.”

Both esteemed talented stars also discussed their books out now – Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and Noah, his memoir, Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.


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