Last week, the New York Times published a piece in the Sunday Review from Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld based on their new book, The Triple Package, a study of why different immigrant groups succeed or fail in America. Though the book has been criticized for being "soft science" and/or measuring things that are very difficult to quantify (something the authors point out themselves in the Times piece) one statistic stood out to me:
Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites.
Those are some astonishing numbers…but perhaps they're less so if you've been paying attention to literature lately. Although writers of African origin have been having a moment in recent years, it's not an exaggeration to say that Nigerian emigré authors are taking center stage. Don't believe it? How about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Chris Abani, Okey Ndibie, Uzodinma Iweala,* Helen Oyeyemi, and Taiye Selasie,* most of whom are now based mainly in the U.S. or U.K.
Anyone looking for more perspective on the Nigerian immigrant path should pick up Adichie's most recent novel, Americanah, which comes out in paperback next month—its heroine, Ifemelu, goes from cash-strapped immigrant student to an acclaimed academic.
*not Nigerian-born, but of Nigerian descent.