Slice of Life 27: A Single Story

My 9th graders and I are in the middle of reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, Purple Hibiscus. We are about half-way through the book, and it seemed a good time to hear from the author herself by watching a TED Talk she delivered a few years ago—a talk titled, “The Danger of a Single Story.”

I first saw Adichie’s TED Talk shortly after it was first given back in 2009.  At that point, Purple Hibiscus had already been in our curriculum for five years. And while the novel no doubt stands on its own, I’m so grateful that we can see and hear from Adichie in another way.  Yes, her TED talk is relevant because we’re reading Purple Hibiscus. But what I love most about her TED Talk is its message—the value and power of stories.

Like literature that never grows old, “The Danger of a Single Story” remains as relevant today as it did when it was delivered. Though the whole talk is excellent, I always feel particularly inspired when she delivers the following lines.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

I love the idea that stories can malign, yes, but that they can also repair. They can heal. I think because I live and breathe books, I sometimes take for granted how powerful stories can be. And not just in literature, but in life. As Adichie points out in another place in her talk, “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

This, I think, is why exposing students to rich diverse and multicultural literature is so important. As an English teacher, I have a responsibility to ensure that the stories students read represent many people and points-of-view, whether we’re talking about race, ethnicity, gender, class, or sexual orientation.

And so watching Adichie’s talk again today, I got chills when she got to the end:

The American writer Alice Walker wrote this about her Southern relatives who had moved to the North. She introduced them to a book about the Southern life that they had left behind. “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.” I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise. 

Can we regain a kind of “paradise” in our classrooms? I hope so.


Adichie’s full TED Talk can be found below:


slice of life

This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

5 thoughts on “Slice of Life 27: A Single Story

  1. Oh, thanks for sharing this! I just started “Americanah”, my first go at Adichie and am loving it – and I love getting to hear from her in more than one way. Such wisdom in her words, and in yours for sharing them! Your students are lucky to have a teacher that knows her purpose for sharing a range of literature!

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    • I have had ‘Americanah’ on my shelf since it was first published, but I finally decided to start reading over spring break. Agree – it’s wonderful so far! I would also recommend ‘Purple Hibiscus’ if you like her work.

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  2. Thank you for reminding us of this amazing TED Talk. It is well worth revisiting. I have not read Purple Hibiscus, but I recently read Americanah and loved it!

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  3. I hadn’t heard this talk – thank you for the link. What a wonderful, powerful message your students are receiving. If only every person could receive it and live it!

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