By Michelle Graff
Foundrae designer Beth Bugdaycay created the “Freedom of Expression” medallion with the input of award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and will donate 100 percent of retail profits to Pen America. A nonprofit that protects the lives and works of writers, Pen America is the largest of the 100 centers worldwide that make up the Pen International network.
New York—In her jewelry store that doubles as a lending library on Manhattan’s Lispenard Street, Foundrae founder Beth Bugdaycay recently packed the house so people could hear from her latest medallion muse—award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

A native of Nigeria who now divides her time between her home country and the United States, Adichie is the author of six books, including “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2007, and “Americanah,” which won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

In 2009 Adichie gave a TED Talk that remains one of the organization’s most-viewed, called “The Danger of a Single Story.” In 2012, she delivered a subsequent TED Talk titled “We Should All Be Feminists,” which she adapted into a book by the same name.

Bugdaycay created the “Freedom of Expression” charm in honor of the writer, combining her belief that jewelry should be a tool of expression—in this case, expressing a belief in supporting freedom of speech—with her love of literature that is wholly evident at her store.

Bookshelves surround the sales floor at Foundrae, stacked and lined with works on jewelry, both old and new, alongside classics such as Jane Austen’s “Emma” and books from modern-day authors like Louise Erdrich. Customers are allowed to borrow from the in-store library and are welcome to donate to it too.

When the Freedom of Expression medallion starts selling in the store and at Foundrae retail partners in May, 100 percent of the retail profits will go to Pen America, a nonprofit comprised of professional writers—novelists, journalists, editors, poets, playwrights, etc.—as well as readers and other supporters who work to protect freedom of expression worldwide, standing up on behalf of writers who are censored, threatened or jailed.   

Adichie is a long-standing member of PEN alongside authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie.

“I am kind of jet-lagged because I’m still on Lagos time, so if at some point I start to slur my speech it’s not because I’ve had too much [to drink],” Adichie confessed as she took the floor at the March 12 event, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But I do want to say that Pen does such exceptional work so for me to be here supporting Pen, it was an easy thing. I didn’t have to think about it.

“I think it’s easy for all of us to say we care about freedom of speech until it gets difficult, and then it gets difficult. But Pen doesn’t stand down.”

The author said from time to time, she finds herself joking—"sometimes not joking, but mostly joking”—about being imprisoned by the Nigerian government, and said she knows if this were to happen, “Pen would be there for me.”

While Adichie credits Bugdaycay for creating the “gorgeous” piece, the author did select the four symbols that appear on the Freedom of Expression medallion; here is why she chose what she chose.

The garnet-set triangle at the top and the yellow topaz at the bottom are meant to represent fire, “to symbolize that which can embolden and energize, but can also consume,” she said, while the infinity symbol honors “the endlessness of those things we hold dear: Freedom, the dignity of every human heart.”

The arrow, meanwhile, represents forward motion, stressing that “the journey of progress is unfinished,” while the arrows crossing in the center remind people to live passionately, as our time on earth is short.  

Foundrae is making only 40 of the 18-karat yellow gold Freedom of Expression medallions, which it will sell beginning May 1 at its store in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood as well as through retail partners worldwide.

Retailers that carry Foundrae include Ylang 23 in Dallas; Juicy Lucy in Chagrin Falls, Ohio; and Tayloe Piggott Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming.

The medal retails for $3,950, with 100 percent of the retail profits going to Pen America, with the goal of raising $120,000 for the organization.

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