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The Father Of African Literature, Chinua Achebe, Dies

by Tambay A. Obenson
March 22, 2013 9:49 AM
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Chinua Achebe

While he's not a filmmaker (and this is a film blog), he most certainly deserves acknowledgement on this site, given his global recognition as the father of modern African literature, one of the greatest African writers, and literary voices of all time!

It's been reported by both his agent and his publisher this morning that Chinua Achebe, the prominent Nigerian novelist, poet and essayist, has died at the age of 82, following an illness and hospital stay in Boston.

In a statement, Achebe's family requested privacy, calling him "a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him."

Achebe is probably best known for his 1958, 19th century colonial era novel, Things Fall Apart, set in an Igbo village just as white Europeans begin to arrive. Required reading in high school and college classrooms all over the world, the novel has sold more than 12 million copies, and has been published in some 50 languages.

His other novels include Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, Anthills of the Savannah, and A man of the People - all equally influential as well.

His latest book, There Was a Country, is an autobiography on his experiences and views of the Nigerian civil war. The book has probably been the most criticized of his writings, especially by Nigerians, with many arguing that Achebe didn't write a balanced account of the war, instead writing more as a Biafran, than as a Nigerian.

A vocally consistent critic of various military dictators that ruled Nigeria, Achebe denounced the failure of governance in the country.

On two different occasions, he rejected offers by the Nigerian government to grant him national recognition, citing the deplorable political conditions in the country, particularly in his home state of Anambra, as reason.

Achebe is also known for the influential essay An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1975), a hard-hitting critique of author Joseph Conrad's influential work, in which he says the author turned the African continent into "a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril", asking the question, "Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?"

35 years later, another prominent Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, would make similar arguments, in her presentation, The Danger Of A Single Story, which has almost become just as referenced as Achebe's critical essay.

The recipient of numerous awards, he won the Commonwealth poetry prize for his collection Christmas in Biafra, was a finalist for the 1987 Booker prize for his novel Anthills of the Savannah, and in 2007 won the Man Booker international prize. 

Nelson Mandela has praised Achebe as the man who "brought Africa to the rest of the world."

Until his death, Chinua Achebe was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.


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  • Kelea | March 26, 2013 12:52 AMReply

    Rest in Peace Chinua Achebe, you will be fondly remembered for years to come. God Bless his family.

  • BONO | March 22, 2013 1:35 PMReply

    Achebe gave to me, a sense of identity. Rest in perfect peace dear brother. We Walk On!

  • BeautyIAM | March 22, 2013 1:24 PMReply

    May he rest in peace. So proud of him for bringing Africa to the rest of the world.

  • urbanauteur | March 22, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    RIP if rapper 50 cent happen to read this ..maybe he'll grow a conscious and make a financial donation to a purposeful cause..after all, he stole your famous book title.

  • kid video | March 25, 2013 12:46 PM

    The Roots also used the title for one of their albums.

  • Nemesis | March 22, 2013 10:25 AMReply

    Sad news. I read There Was A Country last month. Required reading for anyone of "Biafran" extraction and anyone interested in finding out about one of the biggest incidents of modern genocide that the great western powers (notably Britain and the US) chose not to ignore but to aid and abet, resulting in up to 300 million deaths, many of them women and children. Hard to write a balanced view of that when you're on the persecuted side and had to flee with your family to avoid certain death. RIP Achebe.

  • tolly devlin | March 26, 2013 8:13 PM

    I am reading There Was A Country & as far as I know I am not of Biafran "extraction". I would say this book is required reading for anyone interested in African history. I have read several of his books & essays. RIP Brother Achebe....your sane & rational voice will surely be missed.

  • No | March 22, 2013 10:17 AMReply

    I remember reading a number of his books one summer: Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, Anthills of the Savannah, and A man of the People, and of course, his classic, Things Fall Apart. I also read his book on Conrad. He will be missed. Has any of work been turned into a film?

  • Will | March 22, 2013 10:13 AMReply

    Truly one of the greats. It means so much to me becaus eiam Nigeiran and we really have lost a national treasure. R.I.P

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