Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic, born in 16 November 1930. Achebe has often been referred to as the founding father of African literature in English. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centres of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria, and is a graduate of University College, Ibadan. His early career in radio ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various diplomatic and fund-raising missions. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad. For more than 15 years he was the Carles P. Stevenson Jr Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College; he then became the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.
Chinua Achebe wrote more than 20 books – novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry – including Things Fall Apart (1958), which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 50 languages; Arrow of God (1964); Beware, Soul Brother and Other Poems (1971), winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize; Anthills of the Savannah (1987), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction; Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (1988); and Home and Exile (2000).
Chinua Achebe received numerous honours from around the world, including the Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as honorary doctorates from more than 30 colleges and universities. He was also the recipient of Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize. He died on 22nd March 2013.
The writer and academic wrote more than 20 works – some fiercely critical of politicians and a failure of leadership in Nigeria. South African writer and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer called him the “father of modern African literature” in 2007 when she was among the judges to award him the Man Booker International Prize in honour of his literary career. Things Fall Apart has been translated into more than 50 languages and focuses on the traditions of Igbo society and the clash between Western and traditional values.
Who is Chinua Achebe?
Chinua Achebe was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe on November 16, 1930, in the Igbo town of Ogidi in eastern Nigeria. After becoming educated in English at University College (now the University of Ibadan) and a subsequent teaching stint, Achebe joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1961 as director of external broadcasting. He would serve in that role until 1966.
He gained worldwide attention for Things Fall Apart, which was published two years before Nigeria gained independence from the UK in 1960. As well as writing novels he was also an academic. In 1975, his lecture – An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – became the focus of controversy, for its criticism of Joseph Conrad as “a bloody racist” and was later published.
Former South African President and anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in jail, once said that in the company of Chinua Achebe’s novels “prison walls fell down”. He also said that he was the writer who “brought Africa to the rest of the world”.
Much of his work reflected his belief that his own country had failed to realise its potential.
‘Things Fall Apart’
In 1958, Achebe published his first novel: Things Fall Apart. The groundbreaking novel centers on the clash between native African culture and the influence of white Christian missionaries and the colonial government in Nigeria. An unflinching look at the discord, the book was a startling success and became required reading in many schools across the world.
‘No Longer at Ease’ and Teaching Positions
The 1960s proved to be a productive period for Achebe. In 1961, he married Christie Chinwe Okoli, with whom he would go on to have four children, and it was during this decade he wrote the follow-up novels to Things Fall Apart: No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964), as well as A Man of the People (1966). All address the issue of traditional ways of life coming into conflict with new, often colonial, points of view.
In 1967, Chinua Achebe and poet Christopher Okigbo co-founded the Citadel Press, intended to serve as an outlet for a new kind of African-oriented children’s books. Okigbo was killed shortly afterward in the Nigerian civil war, and two years later, Achebe toured the United States with fellow writers Gabriel Okara and Cyprian Ekwensi to raise awareness of the conflict back home, giving lectures at various universities.
Through the 1970s, Achebe served in faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts, the University of Connecticut and the University of Nigeria. During this time, he also served as director of two Nigerian publishing houses, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd.
On the writing front, Achebe remained highly productive in the early part of the decade, publishing several collections of short stories and a children’s book: How the Leopard Got His Claws (1972). Also released around this time were the poetry collection Beware, Soul Brother (1971) and Achebe’s first book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975).
In 1975, Achebe delivered a lecture at UMass titled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” in which he asserted that Joseph Conrad’s famous novel dehumanizes Africans. When published in essay form, it went on to become a seminal postcolonial African work.
Later Work and Accolades
The year 1987 brought the release of Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. His first novel in more than 20 years, it was shortlisted for the Booker McConnell Prize. The following year, he published Hopes and Impediments.
The 1990s began with tragedy: Achebe was in a car accident in Nigeria that left him paralyzed from the waist down and would confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Soon after, he moved to the United States and taught at Bard College, just north of New York City, where he remained for 15 years. In 2009, Achebe left Bard to join the faculty of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, as the David and Marianna Fisher University professor and professor of Africana studies.
Chinua Achebe won several awards over the course of his writing career, including the Man Booker International Prize (2007) and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2010). Additionally, he received honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world.
Honour Refused By Chinua Achebe
He has twice turned down the offer of a title Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, once in 2004 from Nigeria’s then President Olusegun Obasanjo and again in 2011 from President Goodluck Jonathan.
“What’s the good of being a democracy if people are hungry and despondent and the infrastructure is not there,” Mr Achebe told the BBC in 2004, explaining his decision.
“There is no security of life. Parts of the country are alienated. Religious conflicts spring up now and again. The country is not working.”
Chinua Achebe’s Death
Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe died on March 21, 2013, at the age of 82, in Boston, Massachusetts, after a brief illness. Achebe was revered throughout the world for his depiction of life in Africa. He wrote about the effects of colonialism and its aftermath, as well as political corruption and attempts to introduce democratic reforms. One of Africa’s best known authors, his 1958 debut novel Things Fall Apart, which dealt with the impact of colonialism in Africa, has sold more than 10 million copies. Things Fall Apart has been translated into more than 50 languages and focuses on the traditions of Igbo society and the clash between Western and traditional values.
South African writer and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer called him the “father of modern African literature” in 2007 when she was among the judges to award him the Man Booker International Prize in honour of his literary career.
The then Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said Mr Achebe’s admirers had all learnt “indelible lessons of human existence” from his works.
“Achebe’s frank, truthful and fearless interventions in national affairs will be greatly missed at home in Nigeria because while others may have disagreed with his views, most Nigerians never doubted his immense patriotism and sincere commitment to the building of a greater, more united and prosperous nation that all Africans and the entire black race could be proud of,” the president said in a statement.
Chinua Achebe Awards
2010 – Dayton Literary Peace Prize (US)
2010 – Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
2007 – Man Booker International Prize
2002 – German Booksellers Peace Prize
1996 – Campion Award (US)
1987 – Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist)
1975 – Lotus Award for Afro-Asian Writers
1974 – Commonwealth Poetry Prize
1964 – New Statesman Jock Campbell Award for Commonwealth Writers
1959 – Margaret Wong Memorial Prize