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The Danger of a Single Story

I'm a storyteller. Voice Reading
And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call "the danger of the single story." Voice Reading
I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. Voice Reading
My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. Voice Reading
So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children's books. Voice Reading
I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: Voice Reading
All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Voice Reading
Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. Voice Reading
We didn't have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to. Voice Reading
My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer, because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Voice Reading
Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. Voice Reading
And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story. Voice Reading
What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Voice Reading
Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Voice Reading
Now, things changed when I discovered African books. Voice Reading
There weren't many of them available, and they weren't quite as easy to find as the foreign books. Voice Reading
But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. Voice Reading
I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. Voice Reading
I started to write about things I recognized. Voice Reading
Now, I loved those American and British books I read. Voice Reading
They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. Voice Reading
But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. Voice Reading
So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are. Voice Reading
I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. Voice Reading

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