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“Reading realist literature is to search for humanity”

The Commonwealth Lecture, now in its 15th year, aims to stimulate understanding, discussion and debate on the Commonwealth, its role in world affairs, its institutions and its cultures.  A few weeks ago, it was announced that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would speak at the lecture on the theme Connecting Cultures.  In the tradition of her unforgettable speech, The Danger of a Single Story, Adichie did not disappoint. With her wise and moving words, she spoke on the power of literature to unify, to educate and to inspire.  She says—in many words—that in our differences, our similarity is in our humanity, and that even though our different histories cling to us we can still find this common thread, of love and dignity, passing through us all.
Logic can convince but it is in fact emotion that leads us to act. Realist literature reminds us of this, that we are not a collection of logical bones and flesh. That we are emotional beings. That dignity and love matter as much as bread and water. The parts of us that we can measure and define are important but the real influence, the real basis for connection, comes from the parts of us that we cannot measure and define, those ineffable parts, those intangibles.
Here is an excerpt from the press release from the Commonwealth Foundation:

Ms Adichie reminded the Commonwealth it is a common assumption that our collective humanity is self-evident, rather than needing searching for, explaining: “When we read human stories, we become alive in bodies not our own. Literature is in many ways like faith: it is a leap of imagination. Both reading and writing require an imaginative leap and it is that imaginative leap that enables us to become alive in bodies not our own. It seems to me that we live in a world where it has become increasingly important to try and live in bodies not our own, to embrace empathy, to constantly be reminded that we share, with everybody in every part of the world, a common and equal humanity.”

She went on to clarify that this is not a suggestion that we are all the same, instead, “Literature is indeed about how we are different, but also how, in those differences, we are similar.”

“I read human stories to be instructed and to be delighted. I also read to remind myself that I am not alone. That I, in the words of Pablo Neruda, “belong to this great mass of humanity, not to the few but to the many.””

Click here to download the full press release. The Commonwealth Lecture is organised by the Commonwealth Foundation in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Royal Over-Seas League. Watch  Chimamanda Adichie at the 2012 Commonwealth Lecture and download the full lecture text.

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This article was first published on 21st March 2012 and updated on May 10th, 2012 at 1:29 pm


Lulu Oyigah trained as a geologist. She is passionate about nature, writing, arts and crafts, and interior design. She writes, and edits, for

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