All things Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie in NYC
This is me with my stupid fan grin getting my copy of Half of a Yellow Sun signed. I could hardly get a word out of my mouth, let alone an intelligent one.

A few weeks ago one of the most amazing things happened to me – and one of the reasons for which I do appreciate New York City for…I got to attend a brilliant talk at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, where one of my favourite writers was speaking – Chimamanda Adichie.

I first came across Chimamanda sometime last year when I listened to her TED talk about the danger of a single story (which I have posted on this blog). Since then I have consumed anything and everything I can by her – all her books, and all her talks, lectures and interviews online.

So I thought it would be useful to put some of these in one virtual space:

TED talks:
– The Danger of a Single Story:

– Why We Should All Be Feminists:

– On Writing:
Adichie Introduction from Public Books on Vimeo. [Read more here: “A Study in African Realism” by IAN BAUCOM http://publicbooks.org/fiction/a-study-in-african-realism

Her books are all fantastic but my favourite is her collection of short stories called The Thing Around Your Neck. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to get into this writer’s works. Some of the stories in this are available online but go and support great work and buy the book. My top four stories are: On Monday of Last Week, Jumping Monkey Hill, The Arrangers of Marriage, and The Headstrong Historian.

Photos from the event at the Schomburg Center – Chimamanda with the other excellent panelists: world historian Romain Bertrand, professor of English and African-American Studies at Columbia Farah Griffin and Siddharta Deb, Associate Professor at The New School.

Chimamanda Adichie in NYC

Chimamanda Adichie in NYC

Artless

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Last night I went to my first ever poetry reading at the KGB Bar in 4th E street in the East Village. pretty ironic to be listening to poetry in a bar named the KGB but whatever….I had no idea what to expect – the last time I heard poetry being read was during first year English Literature at Rhodes. The two poets were Erin Belieu and Brenda Shaughnessy and it was really lovely to bask in literature all evening without an air of pretentiousness.

It isn’t easy to listen to poetry being read because sometimes an image catches your imagination and you lose track, but I’m convinced now that all poetry should be read out aloud, even just for yourself.

Here is a snippet from one of my favourite poems by Brenda from last night – and I loved the melody of it when she read it. You can read more about her here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/244536

Artless

is my heart. A stranger
berry there never was,
tartless.

Gone sour in the sun,
in the sunroom or moonroof,
roofless.

No poetry. Plain. No
fresh, special recipe
to bless.

All I’ve ever made
with these hands
and life, less

substance, more rind.
Mostly rim and trim,
meatless

but making much smoke
in the old smokehouse,
no less.

I died for beauty

Johannesburg cemetary

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth,—the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

I have had a little bit of an Emily Dickinson obsession lately. Just before leaving Johannesburg I bought an old poetry book at Collector’s Treasury and this was the first poem I read in it. Then a few weeks ago walking near Central Park I came across the Strand Bookshop’s little outpost and there is was – a whole collection a Emily Dickinson poems. I think I will post my favorites along with photos from time to time.

This is the sun’s birthday

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This past weekend was absolutely glorious in Johannesburg and all I felt like was walking around outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. However, if you live this city you will know that it really isn’t a walking city. But there is one place that never lets me down when I feel like being outdoors – Emmarentia Dam. Yes, you have to drive to get there, but it is pretty big and usually not too crowded, which is perfect when you don’t feel like any human interaction. (The dog in the photo is not mine – but I did want to steal him).

While I was walking around, it made me think of the most famous of all ee cummings poems – and the one through which I came into contact with in Grade 9. The only thing that was missing was the ‘greenly spirits of trees’ – they were most brown. But it certainly felt like the sun’s birthday.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

The photos below are some of my favorites from previous visits to Emmarentia.

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Chase the blues away

Bird in a tree, Paul Roos Park, Johannesburg
I spotted this little bird sitting in a tree at the Paul Roos park in town today when I walked up to photograph the flowers. I think he goes perfectly with the line from this ee cummings poem I read for the first time the other day:

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

I’m still trying to decide whether I want a tattoo with writing, and where, and which cummings poem line I would use…this is one is a strong contender if I ever decide to get it done.

From my bookshlef – the brilliant Mr Capote

“Never love a wild thing, Mr Bell,” Holly advised him. “That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things…But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up Mr Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”

This is my favourite passage from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (to those who didn’t know it was a book before a movie, shame on you). Mr Capote came to my attention a few years ago when a movie about him came out, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I was hooked immediately – I went out and bought the biography (by Gerald Clarke) on which part of the movie is based and spent years searching for a copy of In Cold Blood, which I eventually found in vintage form at Collector’s Treasury.

Capote’s life reads like the most bizarre fiction; you really have to remind yourself that you a reading a biography. Sometimes it is hard not to dislike him – he was often manipulative and difficult, but always brilliant.

It has been a few years since I read the biography, and I really hope I have an opportunity soon to read it again. To those of you who love reading biographies, this one is a must. To those who are unsure, it is perfect too, because you hardly ever feel like you’re reading a biography anyway.

“…it’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.” – Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Lady I will touch you

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Just the other day my best friend shared this gem of an ee cummings poem with me that I had not come across before. His erotic poetry somehow always manages to come across with a hint of innocence, sensual not smutty.

Lady,i will touch you with my mind.
Touch you and touch and touch
until you give
me suddenly a smile,shyly obscene

(lady i will
touch you with my mind.)Touch
you,that is all,

lightly and you utterly will become
with infinite care

the poem which i do not write.

Gentlemen, Valentines day may be behind us but I can guarantee that is poem with some flowers sent to the one you love ‘just because’ will make her happier than you can imagine. I don’t think men realise just how amazing it is to receive flowers, particularly for no better reason than because he is thinking of you.

Here are a two more of cumming’s sensual poems that I recommend:

May I feel said he

I like my body when it’s with your body

The second one is one of my top five cummings poems – I don’t have a favorite, just a favorite for different occasions. I don’t think there is a better way to describe how close you feel to someone by saying I like my body when it’s with your body.

Somewhere I have never travelled

I was photographing my globe for Project 365 and it made me think of my favourite (okay one of my favourite) ee cummings poems. His words always feel, not like poetry, not like music but like magical spells to me. I have a beautiful two-part hard cover collection of his poems on my bookshelf – after my camera it is the first thing I would grab in a fire.

somewhere i have never travelled

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

I also went to the Exclusive Books sale this weekend and for less than R120 I picked up copies of Great Expectations (which I used to own but some borrowed it and never gave it back), Tess of D’Urbevilles and The Bell Jar. I do however have about 20 other books which I have bought or received waiting to be read – I have to start catching the Gautrain to work so I have enough time to read.

Some of my finds at the Exclusive Books sale this weekend - Tess of D'Urbevilles, Great Expectations and The Bell Jar.
Tess of D'Urbevilles is mentioned several times in the special note at the beginning of my copy of Madame Bovary, which is why it caught my eye.

From my bookshelf

I am now searching for an antique copy of Madame Bovary to add to my antique collection.

Those who know me know that there are three things which I can talk about incessantly: photography, travel and books. And since I believe books are magical, holy objects they deserve a regular spot on this blog. Those of you who read a lot will know that the name of this blog is derived from my best book of all time – The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. However since the concept of ‘lightness of being’ is very different in the book to what I would like to achieve in this little corner of cyberspace I will not dwell on it much…only urge you to read it.

 
So the first book to be featured is Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. For the past two years I have been trying to read as many classics as possible although they are not always easy. But after watching Little Children with Kate Winslet, in which the book is discussed, I was really intrigued and read it a few months ago. I was floored. It is beautifully written and I could not put it down even though I had been expecting to struggle through it. I will very shamefully admit that sometimes I find the classics a little, well, um boring. A little tedious. Especially when they describe some scandalous act in such a way that your 21st century mind sometimes struggles to work out what on earth they are talking about; needless to say the description of love affairs and all things bedroom related  in 18th and 19th century literature leaves, well, everything up to the imagination.
 
Emma Bovary is quite possibly one of my favourite literary characters even though she is vain, sees herself as superior to others, and loves material things. Towards the end of the book it becomes harder and harder to sympathise with her as she throws herself and her family deeper into trouble. But the entire time I read the book I could not help thinking how I would have fared in similar circumstances. It is easy to criticize Emma for the mistakes she makes when you are a woman living in today’s modern world, with all the freedom that the intelligent and frustrated Emma desperately longs for. She, growing up in the countryside in France in the 1850s, did not have the freedom to move to Paris on her own, to go to parties and to live a little (she is after all young), or to divorce the husband she did not love.
 
This feature is not intended as a book review, just a space for me to say a little about the books I love. I would be thrilled to hear other’s comments and thoughts too – sort of a comment-thread book club if you will.
 
To end of here is my favourite quote from the book; it is Emma describing her husband: “Charles’s conversation was commonplace as a street pavement, and everyone’s ideas trooped through it in their everyday garb, without exciting emotion, laughter or thought”.