By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘A Human Face on Urgent Issues’Among the many graces of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s writerly prowess is her eloquent understanding that politics pervades so many aspects of life. In the most intimate of personal concerns—here, racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths—the political intelligence has its place: sorting concerns, confusion, and commitment.
Adichie explores this unflinchingly in “Zikora,” a new story she has released today (October 27) with Amazon Publishing’s imprint called Amazon Original Stories. This is the debut of her first work of fiction since the 2013 release of Americanah.
At one point in this 41-page story, the title character tries to map out potential political pathways in a relationship’s pressure point:
“I sifted through my memories, as though through debris, trying to find a reason.
“Was it how I had told him? Was it because I said it so lightly, so playfully, that there was no question of how I felt? Did he know too, as I knew, that I was pregnant even as I was telling him that I might be?
“It had never occurred to me not to have the baby, and he must have heard it in my voice. The knowledge came to him as an already-sealed box.”
What readers will discover is that another relationship, the one between Washington-based attorney Zikora and her mother, comes into play in this challenging test of selfhood and integrity. There, too, lies politics.
And we in the world of book publishing enter another political arena of our own making when noting that this extensively honored Nigerian-American author has turned to Amazon with her short story, rather than, say, to Penguin Random House, with which she has published Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun, and many of the other writings that have made her one of the most commanding and celebrated voices in literature today.
When Publishing Perspectives asked Kjersti Egerdahl, Amazon Original Stories senior editor, how it is that Adichie is in this case an APub author, Egerdahl said that of course she can’t speak for the writer about her decisions, but added that Adichie “was eager to make sure this story joined the cultural conversation ahead of the US election”—which is one week from today on November 3—”so our ability to stay nimble and publish with high speed and high quality played a role.”
Values including high-quality publication and that “nimble” factor have been cited in the past to us by bestselling authors drawn to Amazon Publishing, including Patricia Cornwell and Dean Koontz. And when it comes to moving a new work into the febrile American early-voting fray in seven days flat? It’s hard to imagine any engine better equipped than the Amazon retail platform. Zero-to-60 sales power, for better or worse, is vested at this point in the digital clout of Seattle.
In our look at political releases on Monday, it was easy to imagine spotting ome of those timely titles in the hands of voters waiting in blocks-long queues to cast their ballots. Today, this shorter read is packing a political punch and may be downloaded to phones at polling places, perfect for an hour of time in the COVID-distanced patience of the American electorate.
Adichie: ‘The Stories of Women Are Not Truly Familiar’
Among the most resonant observations in “Zikora,” one of them is how close relationships between women, between mothers and daughters, can harbor unexpected tonalities, stresses, and dark context.
This may make Frankfurter Buchmesse-goers remember last year’s Adichie address. As Roger Tagholm wrote for us in Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of her appearance, Adichie said then:
“The stories of women are not truly familiar, the stories of women are not yet seen as universal.
“This to me is why we seem to live in a world where many people believe that large numbers of women simply wake up one day and make up stories about having been assaulted.
“I know many women who want to be famous; I don’t know one single woman who wants to be famous for having been assaulted. To believe this is to think very lowly of women.
“The Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spoken of how she was once asked, ‘How many justices of the Supreme Court need to be women for it to seem fair to you?’ and her response was ‘All nine of them.’ And she said people were often shocked and would say ‘Oh but that’s not fair,’ and of course for many years all nine justices were men and it seemed normal, just as it seems normal to me that most of the positions of real power in the world are occupied by men. Women are still invisible.”
Less than a week ago, you could read Adichie in The New York Times, writing in an op-ed from Lagos, “For years, the name SARS hung in the air here in Nigeria like a putrid fog. SARS, which stood for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was supposed to be the elite Nigerian police unit dedicated to fighting crime, but it was really a moneymaking terror squad with no accountability.”
Her essay on the government of Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, it turned out, was couched in a disturbing personal mission. “For weeks,” Adichie wrote, “I have been in my ancestral hometown, where we first buried my beloved father, and then a week later, buried his only sister, my Aunt Rebecca.”
Egerdahl: ‘Looking for a Good Home’ for the Story
At Amazon Original Stories, Egerdahl tells us that the deal for Adichie’s new story “came together really quickly.
“We first heard about the story through our frequent collaborators, Plympton Literary Studio. They had reached out to Chimamanda about a forthcoming multi-author collection that we’re working on with them for 2021, and it came up right away that she was looking for a good home for a new short story. I worked closely with Plympton to get the deal done.”
For her, the importance of the piece, Egerdahl says, lies somewhere between the press of time in human experience and the speed of politics at a critical juncture like today’s.
“In Adichie’s signature style,” Egerdahl says, “‘Zikora’ is a deeply emotional, character-driven story that puts a human face on urgent issues. Here she shines a light on high Black maternal mortality rates in the United States.
“The story beautifully expresses the pressures and uncertainty that every pregnant person feels to some extent at work and within their own families, while making clear the additional burden of fear carried by Black women.”
As to whether more work from Adichie might find its way to Amazon Publishing’s imprints, Egerdahl says, ” We wouldn’t presume to expect anything, but we hope to be able to launch ‘Zikora’ in a way that does justice to a story of this caliber.
“We’re pleased to say we’ve also secured a contribution from Chimamanda to a future Amazon Original Stories multi-author collection. More to come on this.”
Inquiries about translation rights for “Zikora,” Egerdahl says, should go to Adichie’s agents.
And when asked if the piece might have a future in screen development, logically with Amazon Studios, Egerdahl has a tantalizing answer: “You’ll have to stay tuned.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is here, more on Amazon Publishing is here, more on politics and literature is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.