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Chinua Achebe, 'Grandfather of Modern African Literature,' Dead at 82

- Common Dreams staff

Famed Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe has died following a short illness. He was 82.

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe wrote short stories, essays, poetry and children’s books in addition to five novels and edited collections of modern African literature. Nelson Mandela hailed him as the author "who brought Africa to the world." (Photo: AP) As the Associated Press reports:

Chinua Achebe, the internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident who gave literary birth to modern Africa with "Things Fall Apart," has died. He was 82.

Achebe died following a brief illness, said his agent, Andrew Wylie.

"He was also a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him," Wylie said.

For decades, Achebe penned novels, stories and essays to rewrite and reclaim the history of his native country.

His eminence worldwide was rivaled only by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and a handful of others. Achebe was a moral and literary model for countless Africans and a profound influence on such American writers as Morrison, Ha Jin and Junot Diaz.

As a Nigerian, Achebe lived through and helped define revolutionary change in his country, from independence to dictatorship to the disastrous war between Nigeria and the breakaway country of Biafra in the late 1960s. He knew both the prestige of serving on government commissions and the fear of being declared an enemy of the state. He spent much of his adult life in the United States, but never stopped calling for democracy in Nigeria or resisting literary honors from a government he refused to accept.

Describing the episode that led to the writing of his best known work, Things Fall Apart, the Los Angeles Times recounts:

When ... Achebe was in college, a European professor assigned "Mister Johnson," which portrayed Africa as a land of grinning, shrieking savages. Time magazine called it "the best novel ever written about Africa."

Achebe was outraged. He vowed that if someone as ignorant as Joyce Cary, the novel's Anglo-Irish author, could write such a book, "perhaps I ought to try my hand at it."

The result was a masterpiece: "Things Fall Apart," his 1958 debut novel, changed the face of world literature by presenting the colonization of Africa from an African point of view. With more than 10 million copies sold in 50 languages, it established Achebe as the patriarch of modern African literature.

And in this interview with Bill Moyers, first broadcast in 1988, Achebe explains why “The storyteller has a different agenda from the emperor.” (h/t YES! Magazine):

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