Reading Rooms Literary Guide Susanne Stich looks at some of the work currently being enjoyed in the last month’s sessions.
One of our many favourite authors in the Reading Rooms with teenagers and young adults is Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Famous for her novels Americanah (2013), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Purple Hibiscus (2003), she also writes non-fiction and short stories. Her story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009) has inspired many Reading Rooms conversations, raising questions about gender, race, relationships, migration and privilege. Adichie is a master storyteller whose visceral, yet matter of fact style draws the reader deeper and deeper into all kinds of contemporary and global dilemmas.
Here’s the opening paragraph from the title story in the collection, in which a young Nigerian woman, upon winning a coveted visa to the US, leaves Lagos for Connecticut:
‘You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun; your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month, you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don’t buy a gun by those Americans.’
What follows is anything but a fairy tale, when life as a female African immigrant in America sends the narrator on a rapid and disillusioning learning curve. In the face of current international debates and events, the story seems as relevant as ever.
Importantly, Adichie is also a spirited speaker and has presented various TED talks,which links in with her non-fiction work We Should All Be Feminists (2014) and raises a range of powerful points regarding women’s roles in contemporary societies across the globe:
Adichie’s voice can also be heard in this New Yorker fiction podcast reading and discussion of Jamaica KIncaid‘s mesmerising story ‘Figures in the Distance‘, another Reading Rooms favourite.
In the Reading Rooms we noticed that Adichie’s unique and accessible voice really does resonate with our young people’s groups, i.e. teenagers at risk and in care, but also our newest strand, the ‘Beyond the Walls’ programme which involves young adults who have been engaged with the criminal justice system.
Some other materials our participants recently enjoyed:
‘Winter Paths‘ by Donegal-born poet Moya Cannon from her collection The Parchment Boat (Gallery Press, 1997). We read this poem at our Volunteer Christmas Celebrations.
‘The Messenger’ by Mary Oliver, a wonderful poem for our older groups, including those living with dementia.
Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson, our favourite winter read with our children’s groups, Children in Need strand.
‘The Importance of Being Rhonda‘ by Bernie McGill. We’re only just starting using her stories, but they are receiving great feedback.
And finally, in the first Little Legends session of 2017, we looked at The Day The Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers, hearing why the crayons have finally decided to give up on drawing, and having great fun seeing what stories we could create with our own crayon ideas!