Cooper Union’s famous Great Hall is practically buzzing with anticipation.
The hall is filled with almost – almost! – exclusively women of all ages, colors, and styles.
Each one clutches her little purple book, "Dear Ijeawele," and sits on the edge of her seat.
The back walls are lined with portraits, and despite the hallowed history of the hall as a hotbed of progressive debate, each portrait is of an old white man in stuffy clothing.
But the person who appears from behind the curtains is no old white man in stuffy clothing. She is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the famous Nigerian author.
Beyoncé’s sampling of her 2012 TED Talk ensured that her voice rang out on feminism in households and earbuds across the world, and her anthem has graced runways in the form of a ridiculously expensive white T-shirt.
But long before ***Flawless or Dior picked up her words, Chimamanda was an accomplished novelist and writer.
Imagine this: from the moment the curtains part, there is a deafening cheer. Chimamanda steps out in bright yellow stilettos and a dress with huge, puffy sleeves.
She had been introduced by none other than the co-owner of the Strand Bookstore, who had mercilessly butchered Chimamanda’s name a different way each time she pronounced it.
But there is no indigence on the author’s face.
She strides across the stage with the power of a woman confident in her own strength.
She radiates humility and authority at the same time.
Her eyes are lit up with a humble smile that contrasts, but doesn’t contradict, her posture.
She scans the crowd, glowing with genuine gratitude, taking in the largely feminine crowd who are giving such a warm welcome.
One by one, the people in the Great Hall stand up, until suddenly we are all standing, and our cheers grow louder with the warm beam of her smile and the sheer power of the admiration of the audience.
Our world is flooded with flashy news about actors, singers, and celebrities who are famous for being famous.
We take in every detail of their lives, voluntarily or not, as part of our daily ritual.
But authors in the twenty-first century?
We’ve been told for years that books are dying.
That the value of the written word is deteriorating; that the English language is devolving.
And yet the love that pours from the people of the Great Hall is unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
Unmatched by the rabid crowds of a music festival or the eager fans of a movie screening.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie commands the stage with nothing but her words.
Emotions become visceral.
The mere sound of her voice makes my eyes prick with tears, and I hang on to her every word.
“Feminism isn’t a cloak I put on in the morning,” she says to us, and half the audience pulls out a phone or a notebook to scribble down what they can feel will be a soundbite of wisdom.
“It’s who I am.”
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