Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian writer and a towering man of letters. He was born on November 16, 1930 in Nigeria, Africa. His full name was Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. . Achebe was a profound novelist, poet, critic and professor. Moreover, he is one of the most influential writers in the history of African literature. He is called the father of modern African writing for his crucial role in the development of African literature. His fiction has always served to revive African stories that had long been told by Western voices.
His most famous literary work is “Things fall Apart”. This novel is available in at least forty-five different languages . It also won the ‘Margaret Wong Memorial Prize’, a major literary award. His portrayal of the social, cultural and political disorientation caused by the Western exposure made him even more radical in his writings. He was concerned with the development of Africa at the crucial moments of crisis. He always felt dejected to see the prevailing corruption and wanted to re-establish the moral and social order.
Achebe’s Childhood and Education
Chinua Achebe spent most of his childhood in Ogidi, a town in Eastern Nigeria. His father served as an instructor for the Church Missionary Society. He got his early education from the Church Missionary Society’s school. The medium of instruction for teaching in this school was Igbo, the native language of the Igbo people. He became familiar with English at the age of eight. His late exposure to English inculcates in him a sense of cultural pride and an appreciation of his native language. These values may remain curbed had he been raised and taught entirely in English since his childhood. Achebe’s educated and sensible family nurtured his intellectual growth culminating in the understanding of both cultures. He used to read books in English as well as spent hours listening to the traditional Igbo stories. Hence he grew up surrounded by a complex fusion of Igbo traditions and colonial legacy.
Later on, Chinua Achebe enrolled in the Government College in Umuahia, the equivalent of a university preparatory school. He had been an excellent student throughout his academic career. After graduating at eighteen, he went to study medicine at the new University College at Ibadan, (now University of Ibadan). At University College, Achebe changed his faculty from medicine to liberal arts, including history, religion, and English. He got expertise in English and Literature at University College and later offered teaching for a short time.
Career, Artistic Achievements, and Famous Works of Chinua Achebe
Achebe’s First Novel ‘Things Fall Apart‘
In 1958, Chinua Achebe’s first novel “Things Fall Apart” came into the limelight. This pioneering novel artistically portrayed the clash between native African culture and the colonial government in Nigeria. Moreover, the novel provided an undaunted insight of the disharmony at the time of the advent of missionaries and colonial government. The book was, indeed, an astounding success.
His Second Novel ” No Longer at Ease’
In 1960, the novel’s sequel “No Longer at Ease” caught the general attention. It portrayed a freshly appointed civil servant torn between the moral values and the obligations of his new position. This is the most productive period of Chinua Achebe’s life bringing forth many masterpieces in the history of African literature.
Achebe’s Marriage & Career
In 1961, Chinua Achebe married Christie Chinwe Okoli and had four children. In the same year, he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Lagos. Here, he served his skills as the director of external broadcasting till 1966. In 1964, Achebe’s another artistic achievement, “Arrow of God”, got the readers’ attention. The novel soon followed by another artistic work, “A Man of the People”, in 1966. Both these novels expose the issue of traditional life coming into conflict with the colonial points of view.
The Citadel Press
In 1967, he co-founded “the Citadel Press”, a publishing company at Enugu, with the poet Christopher Okigbo. Their intention in establishing the Citadel Press was to initiate a platform for innovative African-oriented children’s books.
War of Biafran Independence
In 1967, Chinua Achebe openly supported the War of Biafran Independence. It was actually a civil war between the Nigerian government headed by General Yakubu Gowon and the secessionist state of Biafra led by late Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu. The war continued till the year 1970.
Publication of Chinua Achebe’s Poetic Collection
In 1969 Achebe visited the United States with his fellow writers Gabriel Okara and Cyprian Ekwensi. In the following year, he became the director of two Nigerian publishers, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd. Later on, in 1971, he released the poetry collection “Beware, Soul Brother” and published several collections of short stories. Furthermore, In 1972, he wrote a children’s book: How the Leopard Got His Claws.
Achebe’s first book of essays: “Morning Yet on Creation Day” published in 1975. The same year he delivered a lecture at UMass titled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness“. In this lecture he acknowledged that Joseph Conrad’s well-known novel brutalizes and dehumanizes Africans. When published in essay form, it became an influential postcolonial African work.
Additionally, from 1976 until 1981, Achebe maintained an active teaching career. In 1972, Achebe became a professor at the University of Massachusetts and, in 1975, at the University of Connecticut. Later, he returned to Nigeria and served as the professor of English at the University of Nigeria till 1966.
Achebe’s Another Masterpiece ‘Anthills of The Savannah’
Achebe’s other masterpiece, “Anthills of the Savannah” came into consideration in 1987. The novel soon shortlisted for the Booker McConnell Prize. The following year, he published “Hopes and Impediments”.
The beginning of the 1990s brought a tragic turn in the serenity of his life. At the beginning of this year, an automobile accident in Nigeria made him paralyzed. This accident confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Later on, he moved to the United States and became the professor of literature at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. He remained there until 2009. He left Bard in 2009 to offer his services at the faculty of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Awards and Honors of Chinua Achebe
Achebe won several awards during his writing career from various cultural institutions around the world. Here is the list below:
- The ‘Margaret Wong Memorial Prize’ for Things Fall Apart (1959)
- The ‘Nigerian National Trophy for Literature’ for No Longer At Ease (1960)
- The ‘first Commonwealth Poetry Prize’ for Christmas in Biafra (1972)
- The ‘Man Booker International Prize'(2007)
- The ‘Dayton Literary Peace Prize’ and the ‘Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize’ (2010)
Additionally, he also received honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world.
Death of Chinua Achebe
Achebe died on March 21, 2013, at the age of 82, in Boston, Massachusetts after a brief illness.
Sources: Elif Notes | The New York Times | Britannica
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