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.