This guide is a tool to enhance your group’s conversation about Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Acichie’s insightful story of a young love, migration, exile, and homecoming.

Questions:

1. Adichie is herself somewhat of an outsider in America, as is her character, Ifemelu. Is there an advantage to telling this story from an outsider’s perspective?

2. In an interview with the New York Times, Adichie said she thinks there is “a tendency in American fiction to celebrate work that fundamentally keeps people comfortable.” How does Adichie reject or embrace keeping the reader comfortable in Americanah?

3. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Adichie commented on likable characters in fiction, saying, "women writers are expected to make their female characters likeable, as though the full humanity of a female person must in the end meet the careful limitations of likability.” Did you find the characters in Americanah likeable? Why or why not? Are there some characters you liked more than others? If we demand likeable characters, what does this need say about us as readers?

4. The first part of Ifemelu’s story is told in flashback as she's having her hair braided at a salon before returning to Nigeria. Ifemelu interacts with the women in the salon, and makes judgments about them. How does her identity and her long stay in America affect her perception of the women around her?

5. In Americanah, hair is often a focal point for discussing race and culture. Re-read Ifemelu’s blog post “A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor (p. 299.)”  How does the attention and judgment paid to a woman's hair reflect American society’s greater issues with race and feminism?

6. Ifemelu says, “I discovered race in America, and it fascinated me (p. 406).” She wonders, “How many other people had become black in America?” (p. 209) What does she mean by these statements?

7. Obinze’s has a complicated relationship with Ojiugo, his now-wealthy friend who has married an EU citizen. How does Obinze balance the need for support from his friend with the sense that Ojiugo represents someone who has given up his cultural identity?  Are all of the characters who leave Nigeria (such as Emenike, Aunty Uju, Bartholomew, and Ginika) similarly compromised?

8. When Ifemelu is hired to speak on race relations in America, she gets a hostile reaction at first. She changes her presentation to say, “America has made great progress for which we should be very proud”, and gets a better reaction; however in her blog, she writes “racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it’.” (p. 378). How do these two approaches reflect how Americans navigate questions of race and bias? Within your own circles, are you able to have frank conversations about race?

9. Kimberly, the white woman who employs Ifemelu as a nanny, seems to exemplify the white liberal guilt many Americans feel in relation to Africa and Africans. How did you respond to this character and her relationship with Ifemelu?

10. Ifemelu’s experience with the tennis coach is a low point in her life. Why does she avoid being in touch with Obinze afterward (157–58)? Why doesn’t she read his letters? How do you interpret her behavior?

11. How would you describe the qualities that Ifemelu and Obinze admire in each other? How does Adichie sustain the suspense about whether Ifemelu and Obinze will be together until the very last page? What, other than narrative suspense, might be the reason for Adichie’s choice in doing so? Would you consider their union the true homecoming, for both of them?

*Some questions suggested by or adapted from the Penguin Random House Reader’s Guide for Americanah

Themes and topics:

Nigeria, Lagos, young women, coming-of-age, feminism, racism, race and class, identity, romantic love, belonging, separation vs. connection, cultural critique, microaggression, power, Black American/African cultures, cross-cultural relationships, bloggers, corruption, immigration, fear of immigrants, the concept of assimilation.

Learn more about Nigeria, from Portland State University's International Cultures site.

In We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the 21st century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often-masked realities of sexual politics, she explores what it means to be a woman. This essay was based on the author's TED talk of the same name. 

Here are some questions to consider when discussing We Should All Be Feminists:

1. Do you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Cover: We Should All Be Feminists

2. What is a feminist? Adichie says,  “My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.” Do you agree with this definition?

3.  Adichie says her brother is her favorite feminist. Do you have a favorite feminist?

4.  Does the culture you grew up in have different expectations for boys and girls? At what age do distinctions between the genders start? Do you believe these expectations arise out of biological difference, or socialization?

5.  There are many negative views of feminism. How do you think these evolved? How might co-opting a term work to the advantage of those who want to discredit a movement?

6.  Do you know any boys or men who describe themselves as feminists? If you're male, and don't use the term, what would it feel like to do so?

7.  Adichie describes how disadvantaged women negotiate for power in Nigeria; how might it be easier for women living in privilege to embrace feminism?

8.  Feminism is interpreted differently by different people. Intersectionality is defined as "the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage." (Oxford Dictionary) How does your personal identity shape your values? You might use the University of Michigan's Social Identity Wheel to further this conversation.

9.  Feminists are often described as “angry.” What is the place of anger in advancing or hindering a cause? Can you think of examples, in your own life or in popular culture, where male and female anger is treated differently?

10.  Adichie thinks American women do not want to seem aggressive, that they are more invested in being “liked.” Is it possible to be “liked” and still insist on equal treatment?

11.  Adichie points out that boys also struggle under strict beliefs about what it means to be masculine. Do you believe that boys and men pay a price in a world that devalues feminism or insists on hyper-masculinity? How?

Themes:

Feminism, power, gender, gender expectations, coming-of-age, money, injustice, equality, masculinity, femininity, boys and girls, society, culture, tradition, society, socialization, roles, ambition, shame.

Birthdays, graduations, weddings -- all memorable life events that we plan for and celebrate. But when you think about it, isn't dying the biggest, most dramatic event in a person's life? And yet we spend little time preparing for it. Recently I've been inspired by Kate Bowler's podcast, Everything Happens, which is by turns hilarious, dark, heart-rending and sweet. Her companion book, Everything Happens for a Reason got a big thumbs up from Bill Gates in his annual summer reading recommendations.

Kate's diagnosis of stage IV cancer sent her into heavy contemplation mode, and luckily she decided to share her insights. Tip #1 - never say "everything happens for a reason." Tip #2: spread joy, as Bowler did when she posted this Bhangra tribute to the Winnipeg Jets on her twitter feed. Tip #3: check out the attached list for more thoughts on space between life and death.

Winnipeg Vs. Everybody - The Bhangra Remix

The comedian Steven Wright said, "everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."  

Walking memoirs abound, with a resurrgence tied to Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. But don't miss the earlier A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot details the author's effort to become more intimately acquainted with his country by starting at his home in Cambridge, England and following the old roads and ancient tracks that crisscross his country. For a take on women and walking, try Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London.

If you're hankering for a long walk but have no time, walk vicariously with this list. Happy reading, and happy trails.

 

If you've admired the satisfyingly compact and elegantly designed Field Notes, then you're an Aaron Draplin fan. The author, graphic designer and founder of the Draplin Design Co. has created
Aaron Draplin; photo: Michael Poehlman
 projects for the likes of Timberline Lodge, Woolrich, Patagonia, Nike, and Sasquatch Festival. You can see the range of his work in the eye-candy book, Draplin Design Co.: Pretty much everything.  He is passionate about design and has talked about it on Marc Maron's WTF Podcast. Here's what he has to say about his favorite music for summer:
 
I hide in the summers. I stay out of the sun and avoid the heat as much as I can. Oddly enough, my workload always swells. Each year I say I’m going to take a break in June and July here in Portland. That never happens. And this summer’s been nuts. Like it always is. Up early and down to the shop, watching the sun come up over Mt. Hood. Working late to beat the traffic back up Sandy Blvd to the house. My summer cycle. And there’s always a handful of records that rise to the top of what’s on rotation in the shop. A special category for me: My “Summer Records.” I can look back at each summer and remember the couple records that really got me. And in a lot of ways, helped me get through the warm months. 
 
In my list, I start with “morning records” and work towards "mid-day records” — as things pick up in the shop, the jams get more upbeat. As the day winds down, you get into the darker stuff. Those are the “late night records.”
 
August is still coming up, and I’ll be back home with Mom in Michigan. I’m always adding a couple records a week to my revolving list and am always excited to see what’s coming next to get into the mix. Maybe it’s a gnarly Bob Seger kick, being up in all that Michigan? We’d be down with that!
 
01. Jonathan Wilson, Gentle Spirit
When you look him up, everything talks about some “Laurel Canyon” resurgence. Los Angeles freaks me out, so I’m not tapping too much into any of that. This sounds like something I would’ve heard on the radio in 1979, sitting in the backseat with my little sister, on the way to the beach or something.
 
02. Mark Kozelek, Night Talks EP
As a long-time Red House Painters fan going back to 1993, I have a weird allegiance for Mark Kozelek. Although, he’s a trying artist to keep up with. I just don’t read articles about him, and stick to digging the records.
 
03. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Way Out West
Just country enough to not make you squirm. Dreamy stuff.
 
04. John Moreland, Big Bad Luv
We love John Moreland. Our buddy. He’s come to the shop a for a couple visits and I’ve seen him play 5-6 times. Such a nice guy, with a big, big voice. I love his records so much. Thank you, John. 
 
More songs about drug deals gone bad, leaving cities and coming back to cities. And I love it. I’d like to meet this guy. 
 
06. Thundercat, Drunk
This stuff is weird! In the best ways. And funny. And really fun. Lots of little things to listen for. And laugh with. This is my favorite record cover of the year!
 
07. Son Volt, Notes of Blue
The first song on this one … that classic Son Volt. That one was enough for me. Over and over again. Rolling, warm and soothing.
 
08. Chavez, Cockfighters
Arithmetic! Math! Long division! Calculus! ‘90s math-y, rock-y heavy hitters, still hit as hard as they did in 1995. Turn it up!
 
09. The Afghan Whigs, In Spades
Dark, brooding, sinister and dark again. I used to associate them with Cincinnati. Now it’s New Orleans. I met the band a couple years back at Greg Dulli’s bar in the French Quarter. This record fits the mystery of that place perfectly, in a new way.
 
10. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me
Tread lightly here. This is a challenging record to listen to. As beautiful as it is, it’s like going to a funeral. Brave, dark, sad … oddly uplifting stuff.

 

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