Let’s hope they’ve strengthened the roof at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank because it might well lift off such is the energy that will be unleashed when Michelle Obama is in conversation with Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Obama’s only UK public event to promote her memoir Becoming.
The ‘MichelleAdichie’ show on 3 December has already seen tickets being resold for £7,000 on Viagogo, the online ticket marketplace, such is the level of interest in both these iconic figures. Obama and Adichie engender the same adulation afforded pop stars and certain You Tubers, and both of them have now transcended their own particular worlds. Each of them now occupies a wider space – one that encompasses activism, feminism and yes, politics. While Obama is still slightly constrained by dint of her marriage to the former President, Adichie is certainly free to speak her mind and has become someone that the world turns to for comment on a wide range of issues. It is as if she is someone by whom the world sets its moral compass.
Morality certainly featured in Adichie’s opening address at the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this year. She compared the US government to a “feudal court” and in an explicit reference to the allegations of sexual impropriety made against Brett Kavenaugh, the newly elected justice of the US Supreme Court, she said: “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.”
It will be interesting to see if she touches on this in her conversation with Obama. She said women’s stories still weren’t being heard enough around the world and she believes it is important to speak out. “Nigerians say to me ‘why do you have to do this? We don’t have a problem with your books. It’s your politics…’ But I think you have to speak out. If I can change one person’s mind, then I have gained something.”
She believes the world is getting darker and that art has a role to play in both illuminating and humanising politics. “It is a time for courage, a time for more complex stories to be told. Who is telling the proper stories of the refugees? What gives them pride? Who is talking about the difficulties of Muslims, black people, brown people? It is important to have a wide diversity of voices and to revisit how we tell stories. All over the world women’s stories are not being heard. Women read books by men and women; men tend to only read books by men – it is time for men to read women.”
Penguin Random House says of Becoming: ‘In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.’
December’s event will be a true meeting of modern Goddesses, one of the most eagerly anticipated literary (though it is far more than that) events of the year.