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[REFLECTIONS] The obscenity of innuendo without fact [2] ~ by Chimamanda Adichie

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When I first read this person’s work, which was their application to my writing workshop, I thought the sentences were well-done.

I accepted this person. At the workshop, I thought they could have been more respectful of the other participants, perhaps not kept typing dismissively as others’ stories were discussed, with an air of being among people below their level.

After the workshop, I decided to select the best stories, edit them, pay the writers a fee, and publish them in an e-magazine. The first story I chose was this person’s. I wrote a glowing introduction, which the story truly deserved.

They sent this email:

Fri, Aug 7, 2015, 8:20 AM
Thank you so much for that introduction. 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

About a year later, they sent another email to let me know that their novel would be published.

Wed, Jun 8, 2016, 8:20 AM
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.
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.
All my best,

Before the novel was published, I spoke of it to some people, to help it get attention. I had not been able to finish reading it. I found the writing beautiful, but the story false-hearted and burdened by bathos. When I spoke of the novel, however, it was the former sentiment that I expressed, never the latter.

After I gave the March 2017 interview in which I said that a trans woman is a trans woman, I was told that this person had insulted me on social media, calling me, among other things, a murderer. I was deeply upset, because while I did not really know them personally, I felt they knew what I stood for and that I fully supported the rights of trans people, and that I do not wish anybody dead.

Still, I took no action. I ignored the public insult.

When this person’s publishers sent me an early copy of their novel, I was surprised to see that my name was included in their cover biography. I had never seen that done in a book before. I didn’t like that I had not been asked for permission to use my name, but most of all I thought – why would a person who thinks I’m a murderer want my name so prominently displayed in their biography?

Then I learned that, because my name was in the cover biography, a journalist had called them my “protegee” and they then threw a Twitter tantrum about it, calling it clickbait, viciously disavowing having received any help from me.

I knew this person had called me a murderer, I knew they were actively campaigning to “cancel” me and tweeting about how I should no longer be invited to speak at events. But this I felt I could not ignore.

I sent an email to my representative:

From: Chimamanda Adichie
Date: Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 2:06 PM

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.

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.

Chimamanda

After contacting her publishers, my representative wrote:

They have asked whether your preference would be to remove the Acknowledgment to you in the back of the book also, in future reprints.

I replied:

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.

On the subject of how to go about it, I was absolutely determined not to be used by this person, but I was also sensitive to the costs the publisher might incur, as this was not in any way the publisher’s fault. Instead of pulping the already printed copies, I asked that the jackets be stripped and rebound. To my representative I wrote:

I’m completely determined that I not be used in this opportunistic and hypocritical way. But I want to make sure to proceed reasonably.

I was assured that my name would be removed and I moved on.

But from time to time, I would be informed of yet another social media post in which this person had attacked me.

This person has created a space in which social media followers have – and this I find unforgiveable – trivialized my parents’ death, claiming that the sudden and devastating loss of my parents within months of each other during this pandemic, was ‘punishment’ for my ‘transphobia.’

This person has asked followers to pick up machetes and attack me.

This person began a narrative that I had sabotaged their career, a narrative that has been picked up and repeated by others.

The normal response would be to ignore it all, because this person is seeking attention and publicity to benefit themselves. Claiming that I have sabotaged their career is a lie and this person knows that it is a lie. But if something is repeated often enough, in this age in which people do not need proof or verification to run with a story, especially a story that has outrage potential, then it can easily begin to seem true.

My addressing this lie will indeed get this person some attention – may they bask in it.

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.

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.

You publicly call me a murderer AND still feel entitled to benefit from my name?

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?

Besides, 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.

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