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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The danger of the "single story"

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie sets it straight about the myriad myopic misconceptions (yes, I'm trying to be alliterative here) readers mistakenly believe are truths when they are only exposed to the "single story." The "single story" is the limited perspective authors unwittingly (or maybe very wittingly) relate in their tales, stories that take a single theme, a single piece of the puzzle, and conflate it as the whole. This conflation is why many African stories (usually written by Westerners) only emphasize the poverty and distress of African countries, and not the fullness and richness known by those who live there.

And on these shores, the "single story" is why for so long African American writers were boxed into slave narratives and urban tales of woe, even though many of us had never suffered those indignities. Somehow, we didn't really have stories of love, travel, adventure, and just plain fun. It seemed in the world of literature, only those tales of disadvantage and dysfunction in the "Black community" were lauded because to the mainstream audience only those tales spoke "truth" to them. About us.

It's always interesting when your own story is hijacked and reconstituted and then given back to you all warped and slanted. Same backdrop, but now the heroes and sheroes have changed, and you've been relegated in the tale as a mere observer to the exploits of others. But understand, this is your story. At least, it was originally.

As Ms. Adichie points out, stories are important. They form perspectives and opinions, and when those perspectives are based on a limited, slanted view, those perspectives become skewed. This is a lesson all writers (heck, all people) need to learn.

Below is a clip of Ms. Adichie talking at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, UK, July, 2009. It's a wonderful speech.

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 4/15/2010 08:44:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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