The Women’s Prize “winner of winners”: ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’


Founded in 1995 by author Kate Mosse, the Women’s Prize set out to amend the Booker Prize’s failure to include a single female author for their shortlist. To celebrate the 25 years of the Woman’s Prize, the “Winner of Winners” prize was handed to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun.  

Adichie was selected through a public vote consisting of all the previous winners of the prize. Mosse was tasked with rereading all 25 books during the first lockdown of this year, and has said that she was “thrilled” Adichie had won the award that reflected “great books” that had lived “beyond their time”. In her words: “it’s beautifully told because you’re there rooting for characters, and in the end, that’s what history is. It’s about the real people who stood on that spot … It’s a really, really fine novel, and it was a great pleasure to reread it,” said Mosse. The chair of judges for the prize, Muriel Gray, also noted how “astonishing” Adiche’s novel is, “not just in the skilful subject matter, but in the brilliance of its accessibility”.

Adichie’s work has universally been received with immense critical acclaim.

Adichie’s work has universally been received with immense critical acclaim. Touching on themes of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class, race, and female empowerment, Adichie’s seminal novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun have only grown increasingly relevant since their publication. Mosse noted that it is “a book that speaks to anybody, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever their point of view is, and I think that there are not that many books which do that”.

Half of a Yellow Sun depicts the Biafran War of 1967 to 1970, in which both of Adichie’s grandfathers died. The novel arose from the stories that Adichie heard as a child, told to her master-storyteller father. Its significance comes from its depiction of horrors based on real-life incidents, including the burning of her father’s books in their front yard, starvation at refugee centres, and various other atrocities. 

One scene graphically portrays a woman showing Olanna a bag that contains her young daughter’s head. In a moment of sheer horror, Olanna says: “Do you know it took me so long to plait this hair? She had such thick hair…”. This image can’t help but evoke the violence that black bodies have continually been continually subjected to at the hands of colonists, white supremacists, and the police.

The author, who is currently based in Maryland in the US, has noted how the racial climate of the US means that a celebration of black creatives is now more important than ever. Between the President’s involvement with white supremacist movements and the horrific incidents of police brutality, Adichie claims that “Trump is as much America as Obama…People on the left like to say ‘This is not America’, but actually it is. If you look at the history of America, it is not that surprising that Trump is so popular”.

Adichie’s win is symbolic of a much-needed triumph this year

In a global climate that sees an ever-increasing divide between political ideologies, a celebration of black creatives is crucial. Adichie’s win is symbolic of a much-needed triumph this year; a year where there has been so much injustice and violence against black people.

It’s important to note that in light of Adiche’s involvement in the gender critical movement and her support for J. K. Rowling’s anti-trans essay, this celebration of black women authors doesn’t negate the condemnation that her stance on trans issues deserves. For black female writers who are trans-inclusive and prioritise wholly inclusive intersectional feminism, I’d highly recommend reading the works of Bernadine Evaristo, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Audre Lorde. I hope that Adiche’s future work looks to adopt a similar theoretical framework and trans-inclusive approach.

Image: Carlos Figueroa via Wikimedia Commons

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