Author Spotlight On Chinua Achebe
Arguably the greatest novelist to ever come from the black continent, Chinualumogu “Chinua” Achebe is a towering figure who needs no introduction whatsoever. With the African Trilogy and his Man Booker International Prize win, Achebe has cemented his name in the soil of time. It’s no surprise that the maiden edition of our “Author Spotlight” starts with the unraveling of an African literary sage of his ilk. However, with all his numerous accomplishments, it is easy to overlook certain significant events which occurred within his lifetime.
In 1948, having scored highly in the entrance examinations to the University of Ibadan, Achebe earned a scholarship to study medicine. It was not until he fell deeper in love with literary writings that he later switched to the department of English. This, of course, meant that he would have to forfeit his scholarship and pay his tuition from his own pocket. Bagging a second-class degree, Achebe was so disturbed by missing out on a first-class result that he relocated to his hometown to regroup.
Photo accessed via WW Norton
Magnum Opus Dei – Things Fall Apart
Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart, which was published two years before he turned 30 provided the blueprint for African literature. The novel paints the influence of colonialism in Nigeria in a picturesque style garnished with a stint of the Igbo culture. It excavated the realities behind the scene but the truth about the conflict between the Igbo tradition and the Christian doctrines. It is often considered as his best work and most widely read book in modern African literature. The language, the style and the uniqueness of the book made it a household name in many African homes. The universality and relevance of the book are second to none in African literature; it presents echoes from our past, shows us the details of the present anomalies on the canvas and shares in lucid ways what the future holds.
Despite being the book which began a cultural renaissance of enhancing the visibility of Africans in global literature, “Things Fall Apart” was upon publication generally ridiculed in West Africa. The book has sold over 20 million copies around the world and translated into 57 languages making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time.
Achebe was a writer of global relevance despite having his roots in the African heritage, his wide span of contemporaries contains literary titans from different corners of the world. The list is not limited to these outstanding writers and poets: Margaret Atwood, Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awoonor, Christopher Okigbo, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, J.P. Clark, Ferdynand Oyono, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Robert Gibson and Okot p’Bitek. His vast influence earned him the worldwide respect of fellow writers at the peak of his career and even after that.
A global celebrity, Achebe, received over 30 honorary degrees from universities in England, Scotland, South Africa, United States and others.
Achebe twice refused the honor of the Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, citing the chaotic socio-political atmosphere in the country, particularly his home-state as the reason.
Photograph accessed via New York Times
The book, Things Fall Apart, has sold over 20 million copies around the world and translated into 57 languages making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time.
Despite his achievements, Achebe never won the Nobel Prize – a phenomenon which has widely been condemned. He has himself been ambivalent in his own feelings about this.
Following a lecture at Amherst in February 1975, during which he accused Joseph Conrad’s much-beloved book “Heart of Darkness” as promoting racist narratives of Africa, Achebe became the object of academic outrage, particularly from the white academia. In fact, immediately after his speech, it has been reported that a professor walked right up to him, screaming: How dare you! Achebe would later stand by his criticism till his death.
At age 60, Chinua Achebe was involved in a ghastly motor accident which left him partially disabled for the rest of his life. The literary icon passed on during his time in the United States on March 21, 2013, at the age of 82.
Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka
Photograph accessed via Opinion Nigeria
Before we conclude the discourse about the father of African literature, let’s have a look at some of his works.
- Things Fall Apart (1958)
- No Longer at Ease (1960)
- Arrow of God (1964)
- A Man of the People (1966)
Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
- Marriage is a Private Affair (1952)
- Dead Men’s Path (1953)
- The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories (1953)
- The Voter (1965)
- Civil Peace (1971)
- Girls at War and Other Stories (including “Vengeful Creditor”) (1973)
- African Short Stories (1985)
The Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Short Stories (1992)
- Beware, Soul-Brother, and Other Poems (1971)
- Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo (1978)
- Another Africa (1998)
- Collected Poems (2005)
- Refugee Mother and Child
Essays, criticism, nonfiction and political commentary
- The Novelist as Teacher (1965)
- An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (1975)
- Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975)
- The Trouble With Nigeria (1984)
- Hopes and Impediments (1988)
- Home and Exile (2000)
- The Education of a British-Protected Child (2009)
There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra (2012)
- Chike and the River (1966)
- How the Leopard Got His Claws (1972)
- The Flute (1975)
The Drum (1978)
If you are anything like us, then you must have read his complete works twice. Alright, thrice. Fine, maybe more than four times. Who does not love Achebe? His fine writing and extraordinary use of oral tradition in passing across his message made him an unforgettable sage in the parlance of African writing.
What inspires you about Achebe? You can share with us in the comment section below.
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