Random House: PURPLE HIBISCUS is your first novel. What inspired you to write this book?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: It came about organically and slowly; it was sparked by a mélange of things: my homesickness after first arriving in America to attend college (and the way I stubbornly romanticized my memories so that everything became fragrant—rain, sand, insects, grass!), my interest in religion, the way history lives with us, my fascination with the kind of sweet-sour melancholy in some of my favorite books, Nigerian politics and how it trickles down to the personal.
By the way, it isn’t the first novel I wrote. There are manuscripts languishing in dusty drawers which were poorly conceived, to put it kindly.
Random House: Although Purple Hibiscus is not autobiographical, how much of your protagonist, Kambili, do you see in yourself?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Very little. Creating her as she is was very conscious. I was aware that I was dealing with huge, complex issues—religion, politics, history—that are easy to lapse into polemics about, and so I wanted a narrator who would be able to tell the story as unobtrusively as possible.
Kambili fitted well. She is not only young and sensitive, but she is also traumatized and that lends a kind of detachment to her telling.
She is voiceless in a way that I, thank Heavens, am not, but I think that hushed quality of hers serves this particular story well. I do sometimes see the careful way she observes her world in myself.
But I generally never model a major character after myself. I think that would stifle the creative spark; I need to be able to see my characters as being apart from me, creations that I can observe, because only then can I let them grow and free them to take risks and free myself to let them take those risks.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977…and briefly studied Medicine and Pharmacy. She then moved to the United States to attend college, graduating summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins.