‘I believe literature is in peril’: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie comes out fighting for freedom of speech

As the BBC prepares to air her hard-hitting Reith Lecture, the celebrated author of Half of a Yellow Sun talks about truth, trans rights and our ‘misogyny-drenched’ planet. Plus: read an extract

I meet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the day after she delivers and records her Reith Lecture for the BBC. She is a commanding presence: flawless to look at, serene in her confidence, vivid and trenchant in her quest to smash every point and win every argument. We meet at Broadcasting House a few hours before she leaves London for Lagos: the writer now splits her time between Nigeria and the US. In the former, she says, “life is louder, more raucous, more joyful, my cousins are there. People come into the house all the time. In the US, I have silence and I need silence as well.” It’s a neat, fleeting snapshot of who she is, troublemaker and thinker, with enough self-awareness to make space for both.

The theme for the four Reith Lectures this year is freedom, and Ngozi Adichie’s contribution, which will launch the series this Wednesday on Radio 4, is on freedom of speech. The word was that it would be a cat-among-the-pigeons moment, making all the liberals in the incredibly curated audience clutch their pearls. The stated intention is, as you’d expect from Reith’s mission, to educate and entertain. But the subtext, I think, is to set a grenade off under some issue of the day.

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