Remembering Achebe the Literary Legend

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In 2006, a delegate from Japan at a conference in Germany asked a Nigerian delegate upon introduction: “Have you read ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe?” The Nigerian delegate explains to Africhroyale that he was stunned to hear such a question from a Japanese. But that is an inkling of how far and wide Chinua Achebe’s literary works have impacted the world.

Across Africa, many secondary schools have adopted the book as their main literature book to depict the African culture being eroded by Western influences.

In faraway Australia, Europe and the USA, Achebe’s works are used as a convex lens of African culture.

Today, November 16, marks the date Chinua Achebe, arguably Africa’s greatest writer, was born.

Raised by his parents in the town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship to study medicine. But that wasn’t his calling. He was rather interested in English literature at University College (now the University of Ibadan).

He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories, even as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and soon moved to Lagos.

He gained worldwide attention for his novel Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s; his later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987).

When the Nigerian Civil War ended in 1970, Achebe involved himself in political parties but soon resigned due to frustration over the corruption and elitism he witnessed. He lived in the United States for several years in the 1970s, and returned to the U.S. in 1990, after a car crash left him partially disabled.

Achebe, being a titled Igbo chief, focused his several novels on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. He also published a large number of short stories, children’s books, and essay collections.

Upon Achebe’s return to the United States in 1990, he began an eighteen-year tenure at Bard College as the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature. From 2009 until his death, he served as David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.

Achebe was buried in his hometown. But when it comes to African literary works, he remains indelible on the minds of people across boundaries and age for the unforeseeable future.

Henry Onoghan

Henry Onoghan

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