Author warns about 'epidemic of self-censorship'

November 30, 2022 5:05 pm

The writer said some people want "to create a vengeful atmosphere that deters others from speaking" [Source: BBC Entertainment]

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said she worries society is suffering from an “epidemic of self-censorship”.

In a BBC lecture on freedom of speech, the writer said young people were growing up “afraid to ask questions for fear of asking the wrong questions”.

Such a climate could lead to “the death of curiosity, the death of learning and the death of creativity”, the award-winning Nigerian author warned.

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“No human endeavour requires freedom as much as creativity does,” she added.

Adichie, known for novels including Half Of A Yellow Sun and Americanah, was speaking in the first of the four annual Reith Lectures for Radio 4, all this year on themes of freedom.

She argued that Sir Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel The Satanic Verses would “probably not” be published today – something he himself said in 2012.

Earlier this year, Sir Salman was attacked on stage at a literary event. He suffered a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and lost sight in an eye.

The Satanic Verses, Sir Salman’s fourth novel, led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s. Some Muslims regard the book as blasphemous.

“Would Rushdie’s novel be published today? Probably not,” Adichie said. “Would it even be written? Possibly not.”

She said literature was increasingly viewed “through ideological rather than artistic lenses”.

She continued: “Nothing demonstrates this better than the recent phenomenon of ‘sensitivity readers in the world of publishing, people whose job it is to cleanse unpublished manuscripts of potentially offensive words.

“This, in my mind, negates the very idea of literature.”

If any of the books that had “formed and inspired and consoled” her had been censored, “I would perhaps today be lost”, she said.

The 45-year-old also expressed concern that some people don’t speak up for fear of vicious criticism or becoming the latest target of cancel culture.

In 2020, Adichie’s 2006 novel Half Of A Yellow Sun was voted the best book to have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in its 25-year history.

In the other Reith Lectures, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams will explore the freedom of worship; Dr Fiona Hill, former White House adviser to the President on Russia, will talk about freedom from fear; and author and musician Darren McGarvey will discuss freedom from want.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Reith Lecture is on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds on Wednesday at 09:00 GMT.