Adichie-ElnathanYou’ll recall that one of the biggest controversies in the African literary community involved Chimamanda Adichie and Nigerian blogger, Elnathan John. (click here if you missed it.)

In an interview with the American blogger, Aaron Bady, Adichie referred to Elnathan as “one of my boys.” He fired back with a set of tweets accusing Adichie of being condescending. But what really did it was the strangely racy blogpost he wrote titled “The Consequence of Loving Ngozi.” In the post, Adichie was a cocoyam-skinned femme fatale sending him “manhood-shrinking emails.” A piece she’ll later call “misogynistic” and “insulting”—which to be fair, it was.

This all took place in 2013.

Fast-forward to March 12, 2015—almost two years later—and this interview with Chiagoze Nwonwu surfaces online, in which Adichie opens up, calling Elnathan an “attack dog” and suggesting that he was an ungrateful protege.

So what did she say happened?

Like the masterful storyteller that she is, Adichie starts from the very beginning. [Click here to read her account]

The long and short is that she first met Elnathan at a Farafina Workshop, which she runs.

She took an interest in him, partly because he had promise and partly because he was a Northerner. “I have always particularly wanted to support writers from the North,” she remarks, “because I think we don’t have as many stories coming from Northern Nigeria as we do from Southern Nigeria.”

But she had her reservations. Apparently, Elnathan had a chip on his shoulder, and it irked her. “He often acted very superior to the other workshop participants in a way that was unpleasant.”

Workshop over. Adichie and Elnathan become email buddies…sort of.

From time to time, he’d send her drafts of his work. Her responses were kind but erratic. Some of his emails, she’d later say, were “falsely extra-nice and borderline sycophantic.”

Notwithstanding, in the spirit of literary mentorship, she ended up introducing him to her own agent—something she says she regrets and have since stopped doing.

Adichie’s agent—one of the best in the world—was interested in Elnathan’s work but didn’t seem to have been blown away. She suggested that Elnathan continue working on his writing.

What appears to be a cordial mentor-mentee relationship had its first hiccup when Elnathan tweeted a quote—written by someone else—bashing Adichie’s natural hair campaign. (Could this be what she had in mind?)

Anyway, Elnathan sent apologies after apologies. In his own account of the story, he “sent her three…manhood-shrinking replies, first denials, then explanations, then begging and groveling.”

It was after this episode that, according to Adichie, Elnathan went from being a protege to “an attack dog.”

Then came the infamous interview with Aaron bady, during which she says: “Elnathan was one of my boys in my workshop.” [click here to read full interview]

She insists that she didn’t use the term, “boy,” in a demeaning way. She was merely being playful and affectionate.

Besides, Elnathan’s public grandstanding seemed to her a tad out of place. After all, she points out, “this was somebody I had been helpful to and supportive of. This is somebody who once knelt down in front of me as a greeting, in public, to show how grateful he was for my support. He didn’t have to write a public attack piece, he could have written me himself if he genuinely minded the ‘boy.’  I don’t often use the word immoral but I think what he did was immoral.”

Given what she referred to as Elnathan’s “borderline sycophantic” gestures towards her, she felt that his “attack piece” was little more than a “cynical attempt to grab attention for himself.”

She also felt unfairly judged by onlookers. People just assumed she was in the wrong simply because she was more popular than he was.

To be fair to Elnathan, he has always been open about the power differential that defined his relationship with Adichie. He had put her up on a pedestal, it appears. In fact, in the so-called “attack piece,” Elnathan opens up about all what Adichie is saying here about his sycophancy. It might be that Adichie is trying to shame Elnathan by saying all this stuff about his sycophantic emails and how he has knelt down to thank her. But I’m not even going to throw shade on Elnathan for that.

What Adichie is calling Elnathan’s sycophancy is a reflection of the power play that defines the Nigerian society—a place where groveling and sycophancy are accepted and, sometimes, required ways of getting favors. It also says that there might be a bit of the god-father syndrome in the African literary scene—which would make Adichie this “oga at the top” doling out literary opportunities to people who stayed loyal to her. I’m not saying that’s what happened here or that Adichie sees herself as an “oga at the top.” But it does seem like it was pretty clear to both Adichie and Elnathan that their relationship was never one between equals.  

On the other hand, I’m still reeling with confusing, trying to figure out why Elnathan handled things the way he did. He could easily have emailed Adichie to let her know that the “boy” statement pissed him off. After all, when Adichie had issues with his comments about her hair campaign, she didn’t take it public. She sent him an email. That’s how grown-ups deal with issues. The “attack piece” was clearly an overkill. It was undignified, sexist, and altogether unnecessary.

What do you guys think?

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

14 Responses to “Wow…Adichie Gets VERY Candid | What Elnathan Did was Immoral, She Says” Subscribe

  1. adanne 2015/03/12 at 13:44 #

    I love both their writings and was bummed to learn about their little spat. He should have emailed her and given her the chance to apologize for the use of “boy.” I hope they patch it up in the future, because it would be great to see both of them on a panel discussing women’s issues, Africa, literary independence, and improving education on the Continent.

  2. Kan 2015/03/14 at 11:56 #

    In the states, saying that somebody is one of your “boys” is an intimate term of endearment. I am certain that Elnathan is aware of it because that usage is not uncommon amongst Nigerian youth either. His attack piece was a self serving publicity move. It seems he had been waiting for an opportunity to pounce and grasped at the closest inference of a slight from Adichie. Other than giving some Adichie haters something to talk about for a few weeks, I don’t think it was worth it in the long term. He is still a promising young writer but that incident really undermined his integrity in my eyes. Even if he genuinely felt insulted, there are ways to settle matters privately without burning bridges forever.

  3. Haroldwrites 2015/03/18 at 02:18 #

    There is something about Amanda. I don’t know how or where to place it. Love her if you want to, hate her if you want to and your reasons for doing either will be valid.

    If you say she’s bold, fearless, “tough” but humble, you will be right. But if you think she’s arrogant and cocky, you could also be right. She’s a mystery.

    As for Elnathan, no comment.

  4. Fatima 2015/03/18 at 07:30 #

    I was both happy and sad to read her response.

    Happy to have her clear the air (or give her own side) on a piece which was as well written as it was mean.

    Sad because she ‘dignified’ the meaness and raised it a tad with her oh so polite put down.

    Now that both sides have had their say, do we all sing khumbaya and link hands around the fire or do we wait for a rejoinder a couple of years along the line?

  5. J. D. 2015/03/29 at 15:54 #

    Sometimes, in a relationship with a power differential, there is a responsibility differential as well, with the more “powerful” party needing to pamper the “weaker” party’s ego and feelings. Being the weaker person in such a relationship can make one sensitive to slights that are easily brushed off in a more equal friendship.

  6. Freeman 2015/03/29 at 16:33 #

    They are Nigerians. I love adichie but please don’t play down the rudeness in that “boy” word. In the African context and by the African culture and standard sounded rude. She understands this perfectly as a home grown girl. She knew exactly the message she wanted to pass across. As for el nathan we know him so well. He is one guy full of himself. I think these two should sheath the sword and spend some more time churning out pieces we can be proud of than spend time subbing each other disgracefully. Watch out for these two, more wonderful and fulfilling career from them both.

  7. moo 2015/11/17 at 01:13 #

    When you admire someone you tend to think they are perfect and then when you discover they aren’t or that you disagree with some of their views or they disagree with some of yours you tend to take it quite personally like a betrayal, and it hurts…indeed only love can hurt like this. Some of us get over it and reconcile with the fact that our mentor/friend/lover is not perfect or we engage them in a respectful way…or we simply walk away.

    But this man (or ‘boy’) writes something mysgonisitc about Adichie because well, he is how he is, but also because he knows that’s exactly the kind of crap that will set her off .And it does exactly that.He gets his impassioned response and his five minutes of fame.

    Baiting her with bigotry. Saying things were said which weren’t said. Making her anger look like it came out of nowhere when in fact his response is the one that is completely inappropriate. Classic. I actually think she was very generous in her comments.I would have lost my mind.

  8. RMM 2016/09/19 at 06:42 #

    Like someone said, she is a mystery. She seems arrogant but is obviously intelligent and fierce as well. Don’t be confused, this is not that instance where a bold woman is considered arrogant. She just has this know-it-all attitude that somewhat irks me. Other than that, she’s great 🙂

    Sha, my own problem is not the ‘boy’ comment, which was definitely condescending from a Nigerian point of view, but her complete dismissal of the Caine prize. There are nicer, and still candid, ways of assessing the worth of such awards than portraying yourself as above said award.

    At the end of the day, ask any up-and-coming Nigerian writer if they would want to be a Caine Prize nominee or languish in Adichie’s inbox (spam, even). Let’s just say GBP 10,000 speaks louder than 10,000 bits.

  9. Steve Alexandre-Adams 2016/10/16 at 06:39 #

    Small tiffs like that not good for literery fraternity,no….

  10. okey 2016/10/29 at 16:09 #

    It seems Elnathan John has a fragile ego, thus his taken offense at being referred to as “my boy” by Adichie. I was aware when this issue was making the rounds on Nigerian internet circles but never followed the story(I wasn’t interested in Adichie nor any other African writer at the time, I didn’t know who Elnathan was too..). But I’d since discovered and followed Elnathan on twitter because of his satire pieces. So this story pops up again and I realize that Elnathan was the “my boy” Adichie was talking about, I have a better contextual take on the matter and I know Adichie was being fondly by the term “boy”. Why Elnathan would take offense is just beyond me. I think Adichie’s analysis of him is correct. He carries on with an air of superiority(actually, inferiority complex), his ego was pricked and he couldn’t resist attacking.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. wow …. adichie gets very candid | semper aliquid novi africam adferre - 2015/03/17

    […] Read about this boy and this girl. […]

  2. Elnathan’s song: Born into a war on a boiling Tuesday | Ikhide - 2015/11/14

    […] being the center of literary and social media attention. His spat with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is well chronicled here. Here is a television interview of Elnathan that gives further insights into the numerous demons […]

  3. Elnathan’s song: Born into a war on a boiling Tuesday | Jaruma.net - 2015/11/16

    […] being the center of literary and social media attention. His spat with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is well chronicled here. Here is a television interview of Elnathan that gives further insights into the numerous demons […]

  4. Elnathan John Accuses Binyavanga Wainaina of threatening His Career - 2016/08/12

    […] Recall that Elnathan John kicked off one of the top controversies in our literary sphere after he called out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie over the comment the Orange Prize winning writer made about him in an interview with Aaron Bady. […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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