This past month, students may have noticed a book popping up all over campus. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” was available for free at the circulation desk in the library and at the campus branch of PNC Bank. The free books were sponsored by PNC, as it supports Maryland Humanities’ One Maryland One Book Program.
The intent of the program is to encourage people state-wide to form a community by reading the same book and discussing the 2017 One Maryland One Book theme: home and belonging. UMBC partnered with the Baltimore County Public Library in its participation with the annual event, and held its own book discussion this past Wednesday, Oct. 18 in the library gallery.
“Purple Hibiscus” is Adichie’s first novel, originally published in 2003. Since then, Adichie has published three additional books: “Half of a Yellow Sun,” “The Thing Around Your Neck,” and “Americanah.” Adichie has also given two TED talks; one of them, which is entitled “We Should All Be Feminists,” has been featured in Beyoncé’s hit song “Flawless.” In September, Adichie engaged in a small Maryland book tour, making stops at the Baltimore Book Festival at the Inner Harbor, Calvert High School in Frederick, and Gaithersburg High School.
The discussion, which attracted a nicely-sized crowd, was led by four UMBC students who asked the audience questions written by One Maryland One Book. These questions prompted readers to reflect on their own personal experiences and relate them to the book; for example, one student asked, “How does environment shape our worldview and serve to either empower or silence us?”
The novel revolves around fifteen-year old Kambili, her older brother Jaja, and her parents as Nigeria undergoes a military coup. Although Kambili leads a wealthy, privileged life, her father, Eugene, physically and emotionally abuses the family. It isn’t until Kambili and her brother are sent to live with their more liberal aunt that the siblings get a glimpse of freedom. The purple hibiscus flowers are meant to represent experimentation and change, something that is unnatural yet beautiful.
The book talk was organized by UMBC’s Services Development Librarian, Simmona Simmons. This is the second time she’s organized UMBC’s participation in the One Maryland One Book Program. “I thought it would be nice for students because of the book’s culture,” said Simmons. “Two of the students on the discussion panel are Nigerian.”
Last year, the choice of Maryland’s One Book was “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. “All American Boys” is a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and a “New York Times” bestselling novel that focuses on racial tensions and police brutality. A rich offering of events related to both “Purple Hibiscus” and the theme of home and belonging is made available by Maryland Humanities at www.mdhumanities.org/events.