From P-Town… Wandering Creative Space with Chimamanda Adichie

1. On the last block to the Schnitz, I realize that it’s still light out at 7pm which means summer is closer than ever. 2. Adichie on stage at the Schnitz, looking fabulous. 3. Rob Spillman and Jon Raymond head over to the post-lecture reception at the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse.

Chimamanda Adichie visited Portland for the first time as the season finale speaker for the Portland Arts & Lectures series. Andrew Proctor, Executive Director of Literary Arts, bullied her into coming and held a brief thank-you-a-thon prior to her introduction. I have to agree that the Literary Arts staff is 100% amazing. Adichie said she didn’t mind being bullied by someone like Proctor.

Her talk, A Cultural History of My Writing, began with the words, “As a child in Nigeria . . .” and circled back to #305 Margaret Cartwright Avenue several times as she described her writing life. Adichie has already proven herself in several genres and snagged a genius award. If she cut this lecture to about three and a half minutes and kept the #305 Margaret Cartwright Avenue refrain, it’d probably be an excellent pop song or perhaps a ballad, given that she is drawn to beautiful sadness and has a dark artistic vision which keeps her from writing for children.

1. What do bus drivers do while students are at the event? Eat a sandwich on the bus. 2. Steve and Gretchen were comforted by the fact that Adichie also experiences fear while sitting in front of a computer to write. Seth, not so much — he’s not a writer.

Half of a Yellow Sun, her second novel, gave her an opportunity to explore what it would be like to be deprived of the life you knew. How does it change you? These tiny losses compose the grittiness of being human, being people who eat and have sex. All of the stories were based on real stories collected from interviews and archival research. Her role was to streamline the chaotic nature of life.

1. Melissa appreciated Adichie’s comment on turning facts into truth since she just finished her thesis on Native American Boarding Schools. Mia liked the part about “beautiful sadness” because her thesis was on looking at darkness in order to be whole. I liked their coats. 2. Olivia and Lauren are and were interns for Evan P. Schneider at Literary Arts. Richard, who will eventually be famous, is a Literary Arts volunteer who agrees with Adichie that “fiction does matter.” 3. Judy Peterman, former finance manager for Literary Arts, with Bob Huntington’s fantastic smile.

As a person and a writer, Adichie exudes calm confidence, not necessarily grounded in what she has done, but perhaps in what she would like to do next. I see her as someone who takes inspiration from her own life with gratitude and love.

1. Adichie and Pauls Toutonghi, author of Evel Knievel Days.

To Adichie, love means time spent. Yet one of the fundamental sacrifices of writing is time. When her writing is going well, she is willing to make that sacrifice and deal with the friend backlash from unreturned calls. At this point in the talk, I got so into what she was saying that I didn’t take good notes on exactly what she said.

During the Q&A, she mentioned writing better about Nigeria while in the US and writing better about the US while in Nigeria. She is an avid note-taker, constantly recording facts which may become truths in the service of fiction. The details may become sharper with distance. Whether she is at her family home in Nigeria, or Philadelphia, or wherever, her writing ritual is to wander around the house to get into the creative space. If that doesn’t work, she mentioned online shopping and watering her thoughts with writers she loves.

After each Portland Arts & Lecture series event, I typically feel a bit stalked by creative space and allow my thoughts to wander. I don’t always go to the reception because sometimes I need a bit more time to consider what I’ve heard before I can hold my end of a conversation. This time, I happily trotted to the reception while chatting with Spillman and Raymond, grabbed a glass of red wine and a tiny dessert, and ran around talking to people about key phrases from the lecture. Althought the talk was a cultural history, it was also about inclusion, specifically the ways in which fiction brings us together to tell our unique stories in a way that seems communal.

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— Judith Ossello currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find her at www.writerloop.com.

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