Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Genius In Our Backyard

The mysterious folks at the MacArthur Foundation handed out their genius awards -- which come with $500,000 gifts, no strings attached -- and one went to a Columbia fiction author.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a recent arrival to our fair neighborhood, but we claim her nonetheless.

Here's what WaPo said:

Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- whose most recent book is "Half of a Yellow Sun" -- took the call in Lagos last Monday. It was her 31st birthday. "It's very exciting," she said, still chortling at week's end. "I really appreciate the recognition. "

And the $500,000?

"I don't have to think about taking a teaching job for the next five years," said Adichie, who recently moved to Columbia to be with her fiance, Ivara Esege, a physician at the University of Maryland. "I can write and get well paid for it for the next five years, which is the best possible position for a writer to be in."

One thing about the MacArthur grants isn't generally known: The money, which is taxable as income, doesn't arrive all at once. It is apportioned into quarterly payments of $25,000 over five years. Adichie, for one, describes this as a "prudent" approach: "I was thinking it's a good thing I don't get a lump check, because God knows what I might do."

Here's what MacArthur said about her:

Chimamanda Adichie is a young writer who illuminates the complexities of human experience in works inspired by events in her native Nigeria. Adichie explores the intersection of the personal and the public by placing the intimate details of the lives of her characters within the larger social and political forces in contemporary Nigeria. Dividing her time over the last decade between the United States and Nigeria, she is widely appreciated for her stark yet balanced depiction of events in the post-colonial era. In her most recent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Adichie unflinchingly portrays the horror and destruction of the civil war following the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Using multiple narrative voices, a precise movement back and forth in time, and prose that is at once witty and empathetic, she immerses the reader in the psyches of her characters, whose loyalties to each other and their ideals are tested as their world gradually falls apart. In humanizing the Biafran tragedy, Adichie’s novel has enriched conversation about the war within Nigeria while also offering insight into the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict. A writer of great promise, Adichie’s powerful rendering of the Nigerian experience is enlightening audiences both in her homeland and around the world.

Chimamanda Adichie received a B.A. (2001) from Eastern Connecticut State University, an M.A. (2003) from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.A. (2008) from Yale University. Her additional works include the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) and short stories that have appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, Granta, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

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