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'Americanah' is 2014-2015 Penn State Reads Book

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Americanah book cover

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion–for each other and for their homeland.

About Penn State Reads

Penn State Reads is designed to provide a shared experience among new students, encourage intellectual engagement within and beyond the classroom, stimulate critical thinking, and foster a deeper connection to Penn State's mission and core values. First-year students at the University Park campus will receive a complimentary copy of the book at New Student Orientation. All students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to read the book and participate in the related planned events. Several campuses are also participating in a pilot of the program using the same text.

First-year students are asked to read the book before returning to campus for classes in August. Throughout the year, they will have an opportunity to attend featured lectures, participate in class conversations, attend programming in Residence Halls, and engage with other first-year students in dialogue about the concepts introduced in the book.

If you have specific questions about Penn State Reads, future book suggestions, or programming ideas please contact us at

Essay contest for first-year students

Penn State Reads invites first-year students to participate in an essay contest in order to further engage with the themes of the 2014 Penn State Reads selection, "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Responses to one of the prompts will be judged based on connection to the Penn State principles, demonstration of an understanding of self-reflection, personal identity, and diversity, responsiveness to prompt, literary style and grammar. The top two submissions will be displayed on the Penn State Reads website and blog. Winners will receive a prize of a $100 Amazon gift card as well as the opportunity to meet Adichie on her campus visit in October. Responses should be no longer than 1,000 words and can be submitted as an attachment to by the deadline of September 12. First year-world campus students are also invited to submit an essay to the contest.

Additional guidelines:

  • One-inch margins, Times New Roman, 12 point font, 1,000 word maximum, and double spaced
  • Essays should be entirely original pieces responding to one of the following prompts
  • Cover page: Include name, creative title, prospective major, Penn State email, phone number, and essay prompt number selected

Essay prompts:

1. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is too eager to capitulate to the demands of fitting in. Uju says, "You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed" (120). Is Uju right in compromising her own identity to a certain extent? Is it acceptable (or even necessary) to compromise our own identity(ies) to "fit in" with others and to "succeed" in life? Why or why not? Provide and explore an example that illustrates your position.

2. Why is it important to have the perspective of an African writer on race in America? How does reading the story make you more alert to race, and to the cultural identifications within races and mixed races? Did this novel enlarge your own perspective, and if so, how?