Chinua Achebe: 1930-2013

Chinua Achebe

In Depth Africa reports the death of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe:

“Foremost novelist, Prof Chinua Achebe, is dead. He was 82.

Reporters  learnt he died last night in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

A source close to the family said the professor had been ill for a while and was hospitalised in an undisclosed hospital in Boston.

The source declined to provide further details, saying the family will issue a statement on the development later today.

Contacted, spokesperson for Brown University, where Mr. Achebe worked until he took ill, Darlene Trewcrist, is yet to respond to our enquiries on the professor’s condition.

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

Below is how the university profiled him on its website.

“Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe is known the world over for having played a seminal role in the founding and development of African literature. He continues to be considered among the most significant world writers. He is most well known for the groundbreaking 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, a novel still considered to be required reading the world over. It has sold over twelve million copies and has been translated into more than fifty languages.

“Achebe’s global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa. He is renowned, for example, for “An Image of Africa,” his trenchant and famous critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Today, this critique is recognized as one of the most generative interventions on Conrad; and one that opened the social study of literary texts, particularly the impact of power relations on 20th century literary imagination…”

The Guardian reports:

“Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist seen by millions as the father of African literature, has died at the age of 82.

African papers were reporting his death following an illness and hospital stay in Boston this morning, and both his agent and his publisher later confirmed the news to the Guardian.

Simon Winder, publishing director at Penguin, called him an “utterly remarkable man”.

“Chinua Achebe is the greatest of African writers and we are all desolate to hear of his death,” he said.

In a statement, Achebe’s family requested privacy, and paid tribute to “one of the great literary voices of all time. He was also a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him.”

A novelist, poet and essayist, Achebe was perhaps best known for his first novel Things Fall Apart, which was published in 1958. The story of the Igbo warrior Okonkwo and the colonial era, it has sold more than 10m copies around the world and has been published in 50 languages. Achebe depicts an Igbo village as the white men arrive at the end of the 19th century, taking its title from the WB Yeats poem, which continues: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one,” says Okonkwo’s friend, Obierika, in the novel….”

The New York Times:

“Mr. Achebe burst onto the world literary scene with the publication in 1958 of his first novel, “Things Fall Apart,” which has sold more than 10 million copies and been translated into 45 different languages.

Set in the Ibo countryside in the late 19th century, the novel tells the story of Okonkwo, who rises from poverty to become an affluent farmer and village leader. But with the advent of British colonial rule and cultural values, Okonkwo’s life is thrown into turmoil. In the end, unable to adapt to the new status quo, he explodes in frustration, killing an African in the employ of the British and then committing suicide.

The novel, which is also compelling for its descriptions of traditional Ibo society and rituals, went on to become a classic of world literature and was often listed as required reading in university courses in Europe and the United States.

But when it was first published,”Things Fall Apart”did not receive unanimous acclaim. Some British critics thought it idealized pre-colonial African culture at the expense of the former empire.

“An offended and highly critical English reviewer in a London Sunday paper titled her piece cleverly, I must admit, ‘Hurray to Mere Anarchy!’ ” Mr. Achebe wrote in “Home and Exile,” a collection of autobiographical essays that appeared in 2000. A few other novels by Mr. Achebe early in his career were occasionally criticized by reviewers as being stronger on ideology than on narrative interest.

But over the years, Mr. Achebe’s stature grew until he was considered a literary and political beacon….”

A tremendous loss and a great mind. Rest in peace, rest in power.

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