The Danger of a Single Story

Adichie at Topping & Co, Bath. 8th April 2013.

In this video, Adichie talks about her relationship with western children’s books, the vulnerability of early readers and who should be writing stories. This is such an important topic, raising the problems associated with (unknowingly) acquiescent readers who don’t challenge the views expressed, in whatever they are reading. The danger of the single story instigates questions about education, not least, what should be on an ‘English’ literature course? Should universities still be teaching a western canon in an chronological manner, ignoring works in translation, even omitting works written in English but not ‘from’ Britain? My answer is no, we live in a time of world literature, new literatures, globalisation, and students need to read many stories, by which I don’t mean they should read lots of books, but that the chosen reading should not be a chronological history of a single story.

That’s not to say that the literary ‘canon’ is redundant, in the words of Sylvia Plath, ‘I can never read all the books I want’, so we need some way in the limited time we have to choose what we read. Of course there should be time for the classics, works that influenced authors through the centuries, from Homer to Shakespeare. But the canon should not be restricted to works deemed ‘great’ or ‘classic’ in times gone by, we should open it up, discuss early writing by women that has been overlooked and stories told by writers who give a voice to something different to our own experience of life. In essence, is that not part of what literature is for? To fill our insatiable desire to know how someone else feels/thinks/experiences life? I like to think that’s a little bit of what Twitter is about: 140 characters of how another person thinks. Not just a platform for shameless self-advertising, media relations and trending hashtags – in all of which I am guilty of partaking.