From the moment Beyoncé dropped her surprise self-titled album back in 2013, the song everyone immediately became enamored with was “***Flawless,” a track that included a sample from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2012 speech entitled “We Should All Be Feminists,” which she delivered for a TEDx talk. The sentiment of the work caught on immediately, propelling Beyoncé to utilize a segment of it in the interlude toward the middle of the song, when Adichie chimes in with the now immortalized articulation of the gender double standard: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful otherwise, you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
The release of her third novel, Americanah that same year (2013), accordingly caught renewed interest in the wake of the feverish reverence for “***Flawless,” of course spawning the now infamously tailor-made for hats and t-shirts catchphrase, “I woke up like this.” Americanah might have been on bookshelves in May, but Beyoncé’s impromptu reveal of her self-titled visual album in December undeniably aided in the sudden mainstream interest in Adichie’s book and her authorship as a whole. While not discounting Adichie’s talents and genuine deserving of such praise, it can’t be overlooked that the endorsement of, for all intents and purposes, a pop star, didn’t detract from Americanah being listed as one of the ten best books of 2013 by The New York Times.
Cut to 2017, when literary interest is on a continued decline save for anything other than bad poetry that tends to name check celebrities as a means of being “ironic.” Very few Beyoncé and Jay-Z fans are aware of who ancient Muslim poet Rumi is because, well, they listen to Beyoncé and Jay-Z and probably prefer the poetry of lyrics like, “We sex again in the morning, your breasteses is my breakfast.” Nonetheless, when Bey and Jay give birth to twins named Rumi and Sir, fans and casually interested parties alike simply have to know why those monikers were selected. The revelation was delivered by Jay-Z, who stated, “Rumi is our favorite poet, so it was for our daughter… Sir was like, man, come out the gate. He carries himself like that. He just came out, like, Sir.”
So there you have it, a sudden resurgence in the interest in Rumi and perhaps maybe a comeback of overly respectful title usage. Although it shouldn’t matter how a reader finds his or her way to a particular piece of literature, there is something a bit sad about the motives required to get modern audiences enthusiastic about the written word. And celebrity endorsement is one of the few ways to tantalize the average American.
Alas as Rumi said, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” If that means it’s a pull dictated by the literary tastes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z , then so be it. At least it means the fledgling publishing industry might live to see another day.