The Danger of the Single Story

The Danger of the Single Story – an amazing TED talk by acclaimed author Chimamanda Adichie alerts us to the dangers of judging a place or people by the one thing you’ve heard about it. She begins by talking about how as a girl, the only stories she read were of white girls in cold lands – and so, when she began writing, she wrote of what she had read – of those girls and of their experiences. But growing up in Nigeria, those stories were not her reality but yet the fantasies of European or North American children.

While the talk is predominantly of prejudice of a person or place – for me, it resonated as a publisher. Her talk is refreshing and important – for writers and for readers. For writers, because she talks about writing what is in your heart – regardless of the fad of the day or what an ‘expert’ might tell you. For readers, it is because she alludes to power, and with power, one can control the stories that are told, that are read, that are heard. It struck me that as a reader, in many ways, we are told a single story – or better said – we are fed a few stories. Ones of vampires and werewolves, or secret Christian societies or ones of girls with tattoos. The in-control publishing powers feed us what we should read – the single stories that are Meyer’s, Brown’s or Larsson’s. This power to determine what people read is of course not new to the marketing age. It has been around since the advent of the printing press – when it was controlled by the clergy. Now, instead of religious powers holding the cards – it is the ones with the biggest marketing budgets.

Don’t get me wrong – these are wonderful stories told by great story tellers. And I do not try to take any of their success away. This post is just an invitation to all readers – to ignore the single stories that are fed to us and to seek out something different than what the marketing powers will have you read. Expand your horizon beyond these fashionable single stories and discover what literature and storytelling is all about – the culmination of many types of stories in many different forms that make us a richer humanity.

If you read digitally – why not check out some indie ebookstores like Diesel, Smashwords or OmniLit? And if you like paper, please, go to your local independent bookstore or check out indiebound.org

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2 thoughts on “The Danger of the Single Story

  1. John Rasor

    I believe my love of storytelling led to my becoming a writer. There is nothing like a great story, except for maybe being able to tell one. They say that all the stories have been told already and that every new story is derivative, and that’s probably true to some extent. But I see great stories still told through media, be it books, movies, or TV and I still marvel at the creative mind. I’ve both seen and read great stories most recently,and I assure you literature is alive and well these days. Supposedly – based on chaos theory, that anything that CAN happen, eventually WILL – most everything that can happen for real in this world has already happened somewhere throughout history. So this presents a rather bleak future for literature, but that simply isn’t the case. There was an episode of Star Trek where an alien race negotiated for our literature, in return for assisting the Enterprise on some quest, and I thought this was an amazing tribute to us humans, even if it was written by one of us,and maybe even because of it. So thanks Michelle for your warning and insight, here…

  2. Diane Nelson

    I think Adichie has an important message for all of us: that to survive and thrive culturally, socially, ethically we must embrace diversity in all its forms and what better way to do that than through the stories that inform our lives. That means we, as readers and as writers, have a responsibily to eschew the packaged pablum being force-fed to us, children and adults, to seek out, recognize and celebrate those brave enough to think “outside the box”, who challenge us to stretch our imaginations, who pioneer and share the adventures we call living.

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