In her remarks at the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair opening press conference, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke of the need for more diverse voices in literature, and for more “boldness” in storytelling in these uncertain political times.
“Art can illuminate politics,” Adichie told a standing room only audience of journalists in the new Frankfurt Pavilion. “It is important to have a wide diversity of voices not because we want to be politically correct, but because we want to be accurate. We cannot understand the world if we continue to pretend that a small fraction of the world is representative of the whole world.”
Adichie’s award-winning novels, Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah have established her as a major literary talent. But she is also well-known for her feminism and political activism, including her popular TED-Talks “We Should All Be Feminists” and “The Dangers of a Single Story.” And she wasted no time in setting a political tone at what is expected to be a very political Frankfurt Book Fair.
In her 20-minute keynote, Adichie acknowledged the world was shifting—and called out the U.S., “the most powerful nation on earth” for today acting more like "a feudal court,” full of intrigue, and hubris. “We must know what is true. We must say what is true. And we must call a lie a lie,” she said. And while she stressed the need for political stories that “looked the world in the face,” she called for more stories that are not “overtly political,” but inform our politics nonetheless.
“It is not enough to know about how refugees suffer, or how they may not fit into a new society. We must also know about what hurts their pride. What they aspire to. And who arms the wars that made them refugees in the first place,” Adichie said. “This is the time to proclaim that economic superiority does that mean moral superiority. This is the time to parse the subject of immigration, to be honest about it. To ask whether the question is about immigration, or about the immigration of specific kinds of people—black people, Muslims, brown people. This is a time for boldness in storytelling. A time for new storytellers.”
Adichie was not alone in striking a political tone. Also speaking at the press conference, Heinrich Riethmüller, President of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association highlighted the need for the publishing industry to stand up for human rights. "Bookshops and publishers have a responsibility to help shape a society based on human rights," he said, and to support "peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic society.” In his remarks, Frankfurt Book Fair president Juergen Boos said the fair "is a place of freedom" and reiterated its commitment to standing up for free speech around the world.
In her talk, Adichie also spoke of the need for more women's voices to he heard. "For so many people in the world today there’s an inability to feel empathy for women, because the stories of women are not yet seen as universal," she said. "This to me is why we seem to live in a world where many people believe that large numbers of women can simply wake up one day and make up stories about having been assaulted. I know many women who want to be famous. I don’t know one single woman who wants to be famous for having been assaulted. To believe this is to think very lowly of women."
Adichie said it was time "to pay more than lip service" to the idea that women's stories are for everyone, noting that studies show men still mostly read books by men. "It is time for men to read books by women," she said. "It is time to bring an end to that question 'what do women want' because women simply want to be full members of the human family."
The fair unofficially started today, with The Markets pre-conference, and officially opens Wednesday, October 10.