Achebe, Chinua 1930–
Chinua Achebe 1930–
In his 1987 novel Anthills of the Savannah, leading world writer Chinua Achebe examines a network of close relationships surrounding the fall of a dictator in a fictional African nation. The novel ends in an ambiguous chaos and foreshadows the coming of yet another, similar military ruler, rather than the installation of a new kind of government—one that is more accountable to the needs of the nation’s people. In a 1991 essay in Modern Fiction Studies, Robin Ikegami noted that at the center of this kind of political upheaval lies the potential power of a storyteller: through fiction, writers like Achebe highlight the need for change in a land of recurring, dismally oppressive governments.
Achebe is a Nigerian writer whose role as a socially committed storyteller is drawn from his ethnic Igbo traditions. He has written a number of novels, short stories, poems, essays, and articles, garnering worldwide critical acclaim and popular success. In addition to his numerous awards for his writing, including the 1972 Commonwealth Poetry Prize, Achebe has received more than twenty honorary doctorates from universities around the world. In an interview published in the scholarly journal Callaloo, literary critic Charles H. Rowell told Achebe that “here in the United States, those of us who read twentieth century world literature think of you as one of the most important writers in this era.”
Achebe explained his literary goals to Callaloo by describing an Igbo festival of art that celebrates humanity in all of its good and evil aspects. In this ceremony, called the mbari, art is made with the involvement of the community and in the service of the community. The festival itself is called into being by an Igbo goddess named “Ala” or “Ani,” who serves a double role as earth goddess and goddess of creativity, and who is responsible for both creativity and morality in the world. “So obviously by putting the two portfolios, if you like, of art and morality in her domain, a statement is being made about the meaning of art,” Achebe said. “Art cannot be in the service of destruction, cannot be in the service of oppression, cannot be in the service of evil.” The author’s writings reflect his belief in the need for all stories to have a purpose and teach a lesson.
Through his works, Achebe expresses a powerful cry for an end to worldwide oppression. In an autobiographical comment published in Contemporary Novelists, he described himself as “a political writer.” He explained that his politics are “concerned with universal human communication across racial and cultural boundaries as a means of fostering respect
Name pronounced “Chin-ew-ah A-chay-bay”; born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, Nigeria; son of Isaiah Okafo (a Church Missionary Society teacher) and Janet N. (Iloegbunam) Achebe; married Christiana Chinwe Okoli, 1961; children: two daughters (Chinelo and Nwando) and two sons (Ikechukwu and Chidi). Education: Attended Government College, Umuahia, 1944-47; University College, Ibadan, B.A., 1953.
Worked for Nigerian Broadcasting Corp. as talks producer, 1954-57, controller, 1958-61, and director, Voice of Nigeria, 1961-66; cofounder, Citadel Press, Enugu, 1967; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, senior research fellow, 1967-73, professor of English, 1973-81, professor emeritus, 1984—; director, Nwamife Publishers Ltd., Enugu, and Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) Ltd., Ibadan, both beginning 1972; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visiting professor, 1972-75, Fulbright professor, 1987-88. Visiting professor at colleges and universities in the U.S., including Bard College.
Selected awards: Margaret Wrong Memorial Prize, 1959; Rockefeller and UNESCO fellowships, 1963; Jock Campbell/New Statesman Award, 1965; Commonwealth Poetry Prize, 1972; Nigerian National Merit Award, 1979; named to Order of the Federal Republic (Nigeria), 1979; Booker Prize nomination, 1987; numerous honorary degrees.
Member: Association of Nigerian Authors; Commonwealth Arts Organization, London; Modern Language Association of America (honorary fellow); American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; Writers and Scholars International.
Addresses: P.O. Box 53, Nsukka, Nigeria; or c/o Department of Language and Literature, Bard College, Annandale on-Hudson, NY 12504.
for all people.” Throughout his life and in his writings, Achebe has attempted to keep pace with and respond to the particular demands of three major periods in recent African history: these include the era of the colonial years, into which Achebe was born; the years of nationalist protest, when Achebe grew up; and the succeeding years of resumed independence as modern Africa.
Achebe’s international reputation was firmly established with his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which has been translated into 45 languages, has sold over 8 million copies, and has been adapted for the stage, screen, and television. In Hopes and Impediments, his 1988 book of essays, Achebe remembered the writing of this novel as “an act of atonement with my past, the ritual return and homage of a prodigal son.” Through Things Fall Apart, the author renounces the negative view of Africa and Africans that he had unconsciously accepted during his upbringing in the British colonial era. In its rejection of the European denial of African culture and humanity, the novel forms a part of what Achebe terms a “mental revolution,” which accompanied the nationalist movement in British West Africa and led to eventual independence.
Born November 16, 1930, Chinua Achebe was raised in what was then the Colony of Nigeria under British rule. His father, Isaiah Okafo Achebe, had been one of his village’s earliest converts to Christianity and taught the young Achebe to scorn those who held onto the traditional religion of the Igbo people. (However, Chinua Achebe did have an uncle who was not Christian.) Achebe felt drawn to the ways of his non-Christian neighbors and attended traditional village festivals despite prohibitions from his father and mother. At the colonial government secondary school, he studied the works of Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift, and William Shakespeare, as well as a number of “African” books such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. While he enjoyed these works early in high school, by the time he graduated in 1947 Achebe realized that he was forsaking his African roots by identifying with the white man—not the African, who was portrayed in such literature as a savage. Achebe was thus inspired to destroy such erroneous characterizations of Africa and Africans by writing his own fiction.
Achebe decided to become a writer while attending the University College in Ibadan. Although he entered the university to study medicine, he soon shifted to the liberal arts, an area of greater interest to him. While a student there, Achebe came across the 1939 novel Mister Johnson, by British writer Joyce Cary, and was particularly disturbed by the book’s entirely superficial and grossly inaccurate depiction of Nigeria. His exasperation at that novel convinced him to try his hand at writing.
As an undergraduate, Achebe wrote short stories about Nigeria and published a number of them in the campus newspaper, the University Herald. He then began work as a journalist for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1954, one year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in literature. It was at this time that Achebe first imagined the character Okonkwo, who would become the tragic hero of Things Fall Apa rt, which was published four years later. In an interview with Patrick Samway for America, Achebe described his understanding of Okonkwo: “Things Fall Apart needed a main character who saw things in terms of either/or and thought he was a defender of his own culture. And he was. The only problem is that the world was more complex than Okonkwo understood. Of course, this is the substance of tragedy.”
In his 1966 novel A Man of the People, published only six years after Nigeria’s independence from British rule, Achebe turned his piercing vision to the cynical failures of Nigerian democratic politics. The author’s autobiographical note in Contemporary Novelists describes the quick passing from one era in Nigerian history to the next and the corresponding shift of emphasis in Nigerian novels:“Europe conceded independence to us and we promptly began to misuse it, or rather those leaders to whom we entrusted the wielding of our new power and opportunity [misused it]. So we got mad at them and came out brandishing novels of disenchantment.”
A Man of the People was Achebe’s quintessential novel of disenchantment. World Press Review reprinted Chuks Iloegbunam’s summary of the novel: “In A Man of the People, Achebe focuses on the mess that African politicians made of nationhood once political authority devolved on them. Abuse of power, corruption, political thuggery, and electoral malpractices walked the streets in broad daylight.” Achebe’s vision in the novel proved altogether too accurate. Days after the book was published in 1966, a coup d’etat ended Nigeria’s first republic and thrust the nation into a chaos that would lead to a massacre of nearly 30,000 Igbo people and finally to all-out civil war. Achebe had predicted in his novel the fall of civilian government and the introduction of military coups and chaos.
While A Man of the People, Achebe’s fourth novel, marks the height of the author’s early disillusionment, his second and third novels also reflect a fall from innocence. No Longer at Ease, published in 1960, registers the confusion and immediate failure of idealism that came with Nigerian independence. The main character of the book, a fictional political leader, is at first hopeful and idealistic; he then falls through a crisis of cultural confusion into bribery and corruption. The government remains, however, and the corrupt politician is charged and imprisoned for his crimes.
In his third novel, Arrow of God (1964), Achebe returns to an earlier theme—/the response of Africans to their initial colonization by Europeans. This time the tragic hero, Ezeulu, is a traditional priest who still ultimately loses his power, but differs significantly from Okonkwo in his approach to the Europeans. Achebe explained in the America interview that “Ezeulu… is ready to listen to the other side…, provided his dignity is not insulted.” Ezeulu also sends his son to learn the ways of the white man; while this move ultimately serves only to quicken his own downfall, the possibility remains that the son may yet throw off the white man’s domination. Two years later when Nigerian civil order collapsed, A Man of the People would demonstrate eery foresight.
Civil War in Nigeria
By the time of the outbreak of the civil war, Achebe had become established as one of Nigeria’s leading novelists; but the war drove him away from writing long fiction for over two decades. His disillusionment had grown complete, and in the context of the atrocities of his nation’s struggle, the novel seemed to him an inappropriate form of expression. In Contemporary Novelists, Achebe remembered his disillusionment and frustration: Europe had only made a tactical withdrawal on the political front and while we sang our anthem and unfurled our flag she was securing her iron grip behind us in the economic field. And our leaders in whose faces we hurled our disenchantment neither saw nor heard because they were not leaders at all but marionettes.”
Achebe could not avoid involvement with the chaotic events of the time and chose to throw himself into the cause of his Igbo people. On January 15, 1966, about two years before the civil war broke out, a group of mainly Igbo army officers from southeastern Nigeria staged a successful coup that ended civilian rule in Nigeria. By July of that year, army officers from the Muslim northern region had staged a successful countercoup, toppling the Igbo-dominated government and ignoring the subsequent massacre of up to 30,000 Igbo people living in the North. After the countercoup, Achebe sent his family back to the southeastern region of Nigeria, a more predominant Igbo area. He then went into hiding and joined his family in the East in September.
In the spring of 1967, the Igbos declared the eastern region—now known as the Republic of Biafra—an independent state, thereby seceding from the central government. Achebe was in the new capital, Enugu, at the time, starting up the Citadel Press with fellow Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo (who was later killed in the war). After Enugu fell to federal troops in October of 1967, Achebe traveled to foreign capitals to publicize the plight of Biafran peoples, which included mass starvation as well as widespread casualties from the massacre and war. He worked through the duration of the war as Biafran Minister of Information.
Achebe’s preoccupation with the horrors of the Nigerian civil war made it difficult for him to write long fiction in the late 1960s. Instead of working on novels, he wrote poetry, short stories, children’s fiction, essays, and articles. In the volume Christmas in Biafra, which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972, Achebe expressed his fierce anger, despair, and sorrow at the forces that were tearing his nation apart.
Biafra fell to the Nigerian federal government in January of 1970. Achebe continued his efforts in publishing by assuming the position of director of both Nwamife Publishers Ltd., based in Enugu, Nigeria, and Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) Ltd., based in Ibadan. He had begun his work in publishing in 1962 as general editor of the Heinemann “African Writers Series,” and he viewed his new directorial positions in publishing as a vehicle for combatting racism in literature and fostering the efforts of African writers. Achebe also began teaching, notably during the 1970s at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka and overseas at the universities of Massachusetts and Connecticut. He delivered numerous addresses and wrote critical essays on racism in Africa, the aftereffects of colonialism on his people, and the need for more young voices in African literature. As James Curry, the editor in charge of the “African Writers Series” after Achebe left the role in 1972, put it, “Chinua Achebe, more than anyone else, reshaped the literary map of Africa.”
During the 1980s and early ’90s, Achebe focused on his teaching and lecturing while writing general essays, literary criticism, and a fifth novel, Anthills of the Savannah, which many critics found to be his most powerful novel to date. Unlike his other novels, in Anthills of the Savannah women take the most significant role by inventing a new kind of storytelling—and thereby offering the glimmer of hope in the novel’s ambiguous ending. This marks a tremendous change in tone from Achebe’s earlier works, especially Things Fall Apart. In a 1990 interview for the Utne Reader, Achebe concluded, “Anger is a useless emotion,” thereby offering insight into his assumption over the years of a view of cautious optimism.
Chinua Achebe has worked variously as a journalist, publisher, teacher, and writer and has focused at different times on different literary genres, but he has continued throughout his life to work tirelessly in the service of his ideals. He told Patrick Samway in the America interview that he is working on a new novel and plans to write his autobiography.
Fiction—long and short
Things Fall Apart, Heinemann, 1958.
No Longer at Ease, Heinemann, 1960.
The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories, Etudo, 1962.
Arrow of God, Heinemann, 1964.
A Man of the People, Heinemann, 1966.
Girls at War (short stories), Heinemann, 1972.
Anthills of the Savannah, Heinemann, 1987.
Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays, Doubleday, 1975.
In Person: Achebe, Awoonor, and Soyinka at the University of Washington, University of Washington African Studies Program, 1975.
The Trouble with Nigeria, Fourth Dimension, 1983.
The World of the Ogbanje, Fourth Dimension, 1986.
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987, Heinemann, 1988.
“An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” published in the authoritative Norton Critical Edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, 1988.
The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics, ABIC, 1988.
A Tribute to James Baldwin, University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.
Beyond Hunger in Africa, Currey, 1991.
Beware, Soul-Brother and Other Poems, Nwankwo-Ifejika, 1971, revised edition published as Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems, Doubleday, 1973.
Chike and the River, Cambridge University Press, 1966. (With John Iroaganachi) How the Leopard Got His Claws, Nwamife, 1972.
The Flute, Fourth Dimension, 1977.
The Drum, Fourth Dimension, 1977.
The Insider: Stories of War and Peace from Nigeria, Nwankwo-Ifejika, 1971.
(With Jomo Kenyatta and Amos Tutuola) Winds of Change: Modern Stories from Black Africa, Longman, 1977.
(With Dubem Okafor) Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo, Fourth Dimension, 1978.
(With C. L. Innes), African Short Stories, Heinemann, 1985.
Also editor of “African Writers Series,” Heinemann, 1962-72; founding editor, Okike: A Nigerian Journal of New Writing, 1971.
Chair/publisher, African Commentary Magazine.
Achebe, Chinua, Anthills of the Savannah, Anchor Press, 1987.
Achebe, Chinua, Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems, Anchor Books, 1973.
Achebe, Chinua, Hopes and Impediments, Doubleday, 1988.
Black Literature Criticism, Gale, 1992.
Black Writers, Gale, 1989.
Contemporary Novelists, St. James Press, 1991.
Duerden, Dennis, and Cosmo Pieterse, editors, African Writers Talking: A Collection of Radio Interviews, Africana Publishing, 1972.
Killam, G. D., The Novels of Chinua Achebe, Africana Publishing, 1969.
King, Bruce, Introduction to Nigerian Literature, Africana Publishing, 1972.
Larson, Charles R., The Emergence of African Fiction, Indiana University Press, 1972.
Petersen, Kirsten Holst, and Anna Rutherford, editors, Chinua Achebe: A Celebration, Heinemann, 1991.
America, June 29, 1991, pp. 684-86.
Callaloo, Winter 1990, pp. 87-101.
Modern Fiction Studies, Autumn 1991, pp. 493-507.
Studies in Black Literature: Special Issue—Chinua Achebe, Spring 1971.
Utne Reader, March/April 1990, p. 36.
World Press Review, June 1986, reprinted from Newswatch of Lagos, Nigeria.
—Nicholas S. Patti
"Achebe, Chinua 1930–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/achebe-chinua-1930
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Chinua Achebe (born 1930) is one of the foremost Nigerian novelists. His novels are primarily directed to an African audience, but their psychological insights have gained them universal acceptance.
Chinua Achebe was born into an Ibo family on Nov. 15, 1930, at Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria. He was educated at a government college in Umuahia, and he graduated from the University College at Ibadan in 1954.
While working for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, he composed his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1959), at a time when Nigerian prose fiction was represented solely by the fantastic folklore romances of Amos Tutuola and the popular stories of urban life of Cyprian Ekwensi. Achebe's novel introduced serious social and psychological analysis into Nigerian literature. It is set in the early days of colonization and tells the tragedy of a warrior hero who rigidly identifies with the values of traditional Ibo society. For this reason, he lacks the required flexibility of mind and heart to adapt to changing conditions under incipient European impact. This novel won immediate international recognition.
With his next novel, No Longer At Ease (1960), Achebe turned to the last phase of the colonial regime, describing with his usual poise and insight the tragic predicament of the young African idealist. His foreign education has converted him to modern standards of moral judgment without alleviating the inner and outer pressures of traditional mores. The catastrophe derives from the hero's inability to make his choice; it is the drama of a bungled destiny in a bewildering time of rapid cultural change.
Arrow of God (1964) reverted to the past once more. As the high priest of the village deity, the central character is a tribal intellectual who sees the weaknesses of the traditional outlook and senses the need for change. His mental alertness and consequent skepticism lay him open to the charge of betraying his own people. In a desperate outburst of arrogance he attempts to restore his prestige and to reassert the power of his god, but he merely succeeds in alienating the villagers, who begin to turn to the Christian missionaries.
So far, Achebe had been concerned with the clash of cultures, which is an all-pervading theme in the African novel. But by the mid-1960s the exhilaration of independence had died out in Nigeria as the country was faced with the terrific political problems common to the many poly-ethnic states of modern Africa. The Ibo, who had played a dominant role in Nigerian politics, now began to feel they were being reduced to the status of second-class citizens by the Moslem Hausa people of Northern Nigeria. Achebe turned his creative insight to an imaginative critique of public mores under independence. The result was A Man of the People (1966), a bitter portrayal of a corrupt Nigerian politician. The book was published at the very moment a military coup swept away the old political leadership and its abuses. That timing made some Northern military officers suspect Achebe played a role in the coup, but there was never any evidence supporting the theory.
During the Biafran succession from Nigeria (1967-70), however, Achebe served Biafra as a diplomat. He traveled to different countries publicizing the plight of his people, focusing especially on the Ibo children being starved to death and massacred. He wrote articles for newspapers and magazines about the Biafran struggle and living in Enugu, the designated capital of Biafra, and founded the Citadel Press with Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo.
Writing a novel at this time was out of the question, he said during a 1969 interview: "I can't write a novel now; I wouldn't want to. And even if I wanted to, I couldn't. I can write poetry—something short, intense, more in keeping with my mood." Three volumes of poetry emerged from this mood, as well as a collection of short stories and children's stories.
After the fall of the Republic of Biafra, Achebe continued to work as a senior research fellow at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, a position he had assumed several years before. He also devoted much time to the Heinemann Educational Books' Writers Series, which was designed to promote the careers of young African writers, became director of Nwamife Publishers, Ltd., and founded Okike: A Nigerian Journal of New Writing.
In 1972, he came to the United States to become an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (he taught there again in 1987), and in 1975 he joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He returned to the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1976 and was appointed a professor emeritus there in 1985.
His novel Anthills of the Savanna was published in 1987 and appeared on the short-list for the Booker Prize. Set in the imaginary West African nation of Kangan, it tells the story of three boyhood friends and the deadly effects of one's obsession with power and being elected "president for life." Its release coincided with Achebe's return to the United States and teaching positions at Dartmouth College, Stanford University and Bard College, among other universities.
Over the years, Achebe has received dozens of honorary doctorates and several international literary awards. He is an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and his work has been translated into more than 40 languages. In 1994, he fled to Europe from the repressive Nigerian regime, which threatened to jail him. However, he later returned to Nigeria to serve as president of the town union of his native village of Ogidi, honored as such because of his dedication to his ancestors' myths and legends.
Information on Achebe is in Gerald Moore, Seven African Writers (1962); Ulli Beier, ed., Introduction to African Literature: An Anthology of Critical Writings from 'Black Orpheus' (1967); Cosmo Pieterse and Donald Munroe, eds., Protest and Conflict in African Literature (1969); Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 51 (1989); Zell, Hans M. et al, A New Reader's Guide to African Literature (1983). □
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Born: November 15, 1930
Chinua Achebe is one of Nigeria's greatest novelists. His novels are written mainly for an African audience, but having been translated into more than forty languages, they have found worldwide readership.
Chinua Achebe was born on November 15, 1930, in Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria. His family belonged to the Igbo tribe, and he was the fifth of six children. Representatives of the British government that controlled Nigeria convinced his parents, Isaiah Okafor Achebe and Janet Ileogbunam, to abandon their traditional religion and follow Christianity. Achebe was brought up as a Christian, but he remained curious about the more traditional Nigerian faiths. He was educated at a government college in Umuahia, Nigeria, and graduated from the University College at Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1954.
Successful first effort
Achebe was unhappy with books about Africa written by British authors such as Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) and John Buchan (1875–1940), because he felt the descriptions of African people were inaccurate and insulting. While working for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation he composed his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1959), the story of a traditional warrior hero who is unable to adapt to changing conditions in the early days of British rule. The book won immediate international recognition and also became the basis for a play by Biyi Bandele. Years later, in 1997, the Performance Studio Workshop of Nigeria put on a production of the play, which was then presented in the United States as part of the Kennedy Center's African Odyssey series in 1999. Achebe's next two novels, No Longer At Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964), were set in the past as well.
By the mid-1960s the newness of independence had died out in Nigeria, as the country faced the political problems common to many of the other states in modern Africa. The Igbo, who had played a leading role in Nigerian politics, now began to feel that the Muslim Hausa people of Northern Nigeria considered the Igbos second-class citizens. Achebe wrote A Man of the People (1966), a story about a crooked Nigerian politician. The book was published at the very moment a military takeover removed the old political leadership. This made some Northern military officers suspect that Achebe had played a role in the takeover, but there was never any evidence supporting the theory.
During the years when Biafra attempted to break itself off as a separate state from Nigeria (1967–70), however, Achebe served as an ambassador (representative) to Biafra. He traveled to different countries discussing the problems of his people, especially the starving and slaughtering of Igbo children. He wrote articles for newspapers and magazines about the Biafran struggle and founded the Citadel Press with Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo. Writing a novel at this time was out of the question, he said during a 1969 interview: "I can't write a novel now; I wouldn't want to. And even if I wanted to, I couldn't. I can write poetry—something short, intense, more in keeping with my mood." Three volumes of poetry emerged during this time, as well as a collection of short stories and children's stories.
After the fall of the Republic of Biafra, Achebe continued to work at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, and devoted time to the Heinemann Educational Books' Writers Series (which was designed to promote the careers of young African writers). In 1972 Achebe came to the United States to become an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (he taught there again in 1987). In 1975 he joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut. He returned to the University of Nigeria in 1976. His novel Anthills of the Savanna (1987) tells the story of three boyhood friends in a West African nation and the deadly effects of the desire for power and wanting to be elected "president for life." After its release Achebe returned to the United States and teaching positions at Stanford University, Dartmouth College, and other universities.
Back in Nigeria in 1990 to celebrate his sixtieth birthday, Achebe was involved in a car accident on one of the country's dangerous roads. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors recommended he go back to the United States for good to receive better medical care, so he accepted a teaching position at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. In 1999, after a nine-year absence, Achebe visited his homeland, where his native village of Ogidi honored him for his dedication to the myths and legends of his ancestors. In 2000 Achebe's nonfiction book Home and Exile, consisting of three essays, was published by Oxford University Press.
For More Information
Carroll, David. Chinua Achebe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.
Ezenwa-Ohaeto. Chinua Achebe: A Biography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
Innes, C. L. Chinua Achebe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
"Achebe, Chinua." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achebe-chinua
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Chinua Achebe (chĬn´wä ächā´bā), 1930–2013, Nigerian writer, b. Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. A graduate of University College, Ibadan (1953), Achebe, an Igbo who wrote in English, is one of Africa's most acclaimed authors, and is considered by some to be the father of modern African literature. He taught briefly before becoming an executive at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (1961–66). Pioneering in their portrayal of African life from an African perspective, his early novels are the groundbreaking Things Fall Apart (1958), which has been acclaimed his masterpiece and is probably the most widely read book by a black African writer; No Longer at Ease (1960); and Arrow of God (1964). Forming a thematic trilogy, these works poignantly describe the confusing and often destructive effects of European colonialism and Western values on individual characters as well as on Igbo society, Nigeria, and the newly independent African nations.
His next novel, the political satire A Man of the People (1966), foreshadowed Nigeria's 1966 coups. Achebe served as a diplomat (1966–68) for Biafra during the Nigerian civil war and later wrote two volumes of poetry, Beware, Soul Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973), and one of literary essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), about the war. He taught at the Univ. of Nigeria, Nsukka (1976–81), and was founding editor (1971) of the influential journal Okike. Achebe returned to the novel with Anthills of the Savannah (1988), which explores the corruption and idealism of political life in postcolonial Africa. He also wrote numerous short stories, children's books, and essays. A paraplegic as a result of a 1990 automobile accident near Lagos, Achebe received medical treatment in London and in the United States, where he settled (1990). He taught at Bard College from 1990 to 2009 and at Brown from 2009 until his death. Three personal works, Home and Exile (2000), a collection of essays reflecting on his and his nation's coming of age; the autobiographical essays of The Education of a British-Protected Child (2009); and his memoir-history of the Biafran war, There Was a Country (2012), are the only books he published during this period. In 2007 he was awarded the Man Booker International Prize.
See B. Lindfors, ed., Conversations with Chinua Achebe (1997); biographies by Ezenwa-Obaeto (1997) and T. M. Sallah and N. Okonjo-Iweala (2003); studies by R. Wren (1980), B. C. Njoku (1984), C. L. Innes (1990), S. Gikandi (1991), K. H. Petersen and A. Rutherford, ed. (1991), R. O. Muoneke (1994), A. Gera (2001), E. N. Emenyonu, ed. (2003), M. Pandurang, ed. (2006), J. Morrison (2007), and B. Lindfors (2009); M. K. Booker, ed., The Chinua Achebe Encyclopedia (2003)
"Achebe, Chinua." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achebe-chinua
"Achebe, Chinua." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achebe-chinua
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Nationality: Nigerian. Born: Albert Chinualumogu in Ogidi, 16 November 1930. Education: Government College, Umuahia, 1944-47; University College, Ibadan, 1948-53, B.A. (London) 1953. Family: Married Christiana Chinwe Okoli in 1961; two sons and two daughters. Career: Talks producer, Lagos, 1954-57, controller, Enugu, 1958-61, and director, Voice of Nigeria, Lagos, 1961-66, Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation; chairman, Citadel Books Ltd., Enugu, 1967. Senior research fellow, 1967-73, professor of English, 1973-81, and since 1984 professor emeritus, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Visiting professor, 1972-75, and Fulbright Professor, 1987-88, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; visiting professor, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1975-76; Regents' Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles, 1984; Visiting Distinguished Professor of English, City College, New York, 1989, visiting professor, Stanford University, 1990. Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Literature, Bard College. Founding editor, Heinemann African Writers series, 1962-72 and since 1970 director, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) Ltd., and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd. (later Nwamife), publishers, Enugu; since 1971 editor, Okike: An African Journal of New Writing, Nsukka; since 1983 governor, Newsconcern International Foundation, London; since 1984 founder and publisher, Uwa Ndi Igbo: A Bilingual Journal of Igbo Life and Arts. Since 1998 goodwill ambassador, United Nations Population Fund. Awards: Margaret Wrong Memorial prize, 1959; Nigerian National trophy, 1960; Rockefeller fellowship, 1960; Unesco fellowship, 1963; Jock Campbell award (New Statesman ), 1965; Commonwealth Poetry prize, 1973; Neil Gunn International fellowship, 1974; Lotus award for Afro-Asian writers, 1975; Nigerian National Merit award, 1979; Commonwealth Foundation award, 1984. Litt.D.: Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1972; University of Southampton, 1975; University of Ife, 1978; University of Nigeria, 1981; University of Kent, Canterbury, 1982; University of Guelph, Ontario, 1984; Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, 1984; Franklin Pierce College, Rindge, New Hampshire, 1985; University of Ibadan, 1989; Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1990; D. Univ.: University of Stirling, 1975; Open University, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, 1989; LL.D.: University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, 1976; D.H.L.: University of Massachusetts, 1977; Westfield College, London, 1989; Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1990; doctor of letters, honoris causa, Trinity College, Connecticut, 1999. Honorary Fellow, Modern Language Association (USA), 1975; member, Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979; Honorary Member, American Academy, 1982; Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1983. Member: University of Lagos Council, 1966; chairman, Society of Nigerian Authors, 1966, and Association of Nigerian Authors, 1982-86; member, Anambra State Arts Council, 1977-79; Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Anambra State University of Technology, Enugu, 1986-88. Since 1981 member of the Executive Committee, Commonwealth Arts Organization, London; since 1983 member, International Social Prospects Academy, Geneva; since 1984 director, Okike Arts Center, Nsukka. Served on diplomatic missions for Biafra during Nigerian Civil War, 1967-69; deputy national president, People's Redemption Party, 1983. Address: P.O. Box 53, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Anambra State, Nigeria.
Things Fall Apart. London, Heinemann, 1958; New York, McDowellObolensky, 1959; introduction by Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York, Knopf, 1992.
No Longer at Ease. London, Heinemann, 1960; New York, Obolensky, 1961.
Arrow of God. London, Heinemann, 1964; New York, Day, 1967.
A Man of the People. London, Heinemann, and New York, Day, 1966.
Anthills of the Savannah. London, Heinemann, 1987; New York, Doubleday, 1988.
The African Trilogy. London, Picador, 1988.
The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories. Onitsha, Etudo, 1962.
Girls at War. London, Heinemann, 1972; New York, Doubleday, 1973.
Beware, Soul-Brother and Other Poems. Enugu, Nwankwo-Ifejika, 1971; revised edition, Enugu, Nwamife, and London, Heinemann, 1972; revised edition, as Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems, New York, Doubleday, 1973.
Another Africa (essay and poems), photographs by Robert Lyons. New York, Anchor Books, 1998.
Other (for children)
Chike and the River. London and New York, Cambridge UniversityPress, 1966.
How the Leopard Got His Claws, with John Iroaganachi. Enugu, Nwamife, 1972; New York, Third Press, 1973.
The Flute. Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1977.
The Drum. Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1977.
Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. London, Heinemann, andNew York, Doubleday, 1975.
In Person: Achebe, Awoonor, and Soyinka at the University of Washington. Seattle, University of Washington African Studies Program, 1975.
The Trouble with Nigeria. Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1983; London, Heinemann, 1984.
The World of the Ogbanje. Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1986.
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987. London, Heinemann, 1988; New York, Doubleday, 1990.
The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics. Enugu, ABIC, 1988.
A Tribute to James Baldwin. Amherst, University of MassachusettsPress, 1989.
Home and Exile. New York, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Contributor, The South Wind and the Sun, edited by Kate Turkington. Johannesburg, South Africa, Thorold's Africana Books, 1996.
Contributor, Order and Chaos. Chicago, Great Books Foundation, 1997.
Editor, with Jomo Kenyatta and Amos Tutuola, Winds of Change: Modern Stories from Black Africa. London, Longman, 1977.
Editor, with Dubem Okafor, Don't Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo. Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1978.
Editor with C.L. Innes, African Short Stories. London, Heinemann, 1985.
Editor, Beyond Hunger in Africa: Conventional Wisdom and a Vision of Africa in 2057. Nairobi, Heinemann Kenya, and London, Currey, 1990.*
In Africana Library Journal (New York), Spring 1970; Chinua Achebe: A Bibliography by B.M. Okpu, Lagos, Libriservice, 1984; Chinua Achebe by C.L. Innes, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
The Novels of Chinua Achebe by G.D. Killam, London, Heinemann, and New York, Africana, 1969, revised edition, as The Writings of Chinua Achebe, Heinemann, 1977; Chinua Achebe by Arthur Ravenscroft, London, Longman, 1969, revised edition, 1977; Chinua Achebe by David Carroll, New York, Twayne, 1970, revised edition, London, Macmillan, 1980, 1990; Chinua Achebe by Kate Turkington, London, Arnold, 1977; Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe edited by Bernth Lindfors and C.L. Innes, London, Heimemann, and Washington, D.C., Three Continents Press, 1978; Achebe's World: The Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels of Chinua Achebe by Robert M. Wren, Washington, D.C., Three Continents Press, 1980, London, Longman, 1981; The Four Novels of Chinua Achebe: A Critical Study by Benedict C. Njoku, Bern, Switzerland, Lang, 1984; The Traditional Religion and Its Encounter with Christianity in Achebe's Novels by E.M. Okoye, Bern, Switzerland, Lang, 1987; Chinua Achebe by C.L. Innes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990; Reading Chinua Achebe: Language and Ideology in Fiction by Simon Gikandi, London, Currey, 1991; Approaches to Teaching Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" edited by Bernth Lindfors, New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1991; Chinua Achebe: A Celebration edited by Kirsten Holst Petersen and Anna Rutherford, Oxford, England, Heinemann, 1991; Chinua Achebe: New Perspectives by Umela Ojinmah, Ibadan, Spectrum, 1991; Reading Chinua Achebe: Language and Ideology in Fiction by Simon Gikandi, London, Currey, 1991; Gods, Oracles and Divination by Kalu Ogbaa, Trenton, N.J., Africa World Press, 1992; Art, Rebellion and Redemption by Romanus Okey Muonaka, New York, Lang, 1993; South Asian Responses to Chinua Achebe edited by Bernth Lindfors and Bala Kothandaraman, New Delhi, Prestige Books International, 1993; Chinua Achebe, the Importance of Stories (videocassette), 1996; International Symposium for Chinua Achebe's 60th Birthday. Ibadan, Nigeria, Heinemann Educational Books, 1996; Colonial and Post-Colonial Discourse in the Novels of Yom Sang-sop, Chinua Achebe, and Salman Rushdie by Soonsik Kim, New York, P. Lang, 1996; Form and Technique in the African Novel by Olawale Awosika, Ibadan, Nigeria, Sam Bookman, 1997; Chinua Achebe: A Biography by Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1997; Conversations with Chinua Achebe edited by Bernth Lindfors, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1997; A Teacher's Guide to African Narratives by Sara Tallis O'Brien, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Heinemann, 1998.
Chinua Achebe comments:
I am a political writer. My politics is concerned with universal human communication across racial and cultural boundaries as a means of fostering respect for all people. Such respect can issue only from understanding. So my primary concern is with clearing the channels of communication in my own neighborhood by hacking away at the thickets that choke them.
Africa's meeting with Europe must be accounted a terrible disaster in this matter of human understanding and respect. The nature of the meeting precluded any warmth of friendship. First Europe was an enslaver; then a colonizer. In either role she had no need and made little effort to understand or appreciate Africa; indeed she easily convinced herself that there was nothing there to justify the effort. Today our world is still bedeviled by the consequences of that cataclysmic encounter.
I was born into the colonial era, grew up in the heady years of nationalist protest and witnessed Africa's resumption of independence. (It was not, however, the same Africa which originally lost her freedom that now retained it, but a different Africa created in the image of Europe—but that's another story.) So I have seen in my not very long lifetime three major eras in precipitate succession, leaving us somewhat dazed. My response as a writer has been to try to keep pace with these torrential changes. First I had to tell Europe that the arrogance on which she sought to excuse her pillage of Africa, i.e., that Africa was the Primordial Void, was sheer humbug; that Africa had a history, a religion, a civilization. We reconstructed this history and civilization and displayed it to challenge the stereotype and the cliché. Actually it was not to Europe alone that I spoke. I spoke also to that part of ourselves that had come to accept Europe's opinion of us. And I was not alone nor even the first.
But the gauntlet had barely left our hands when a new historic phase broke on us. Europe conceded independence to us and we promptly began to misuse it, or rather those leaders to whom we entrusted the wielding of our new power and opportunity did. So we got mad at them and came out brandishing novels of disenchantment. Actually we had all been duped. No independence was given—it was never given but taken, anyway. Europe had only made a tactical withdrawal on the political front and while we sang our anthem and unfurled our flag she was securing her iron grip behind us in the economic field. And our leaders in whose faces we hurled our disenchantment neither saw nor heard because they were not leaders at all but marionettes.
So the problem remains for Africa, for black people, for all deprived peoples and for the world. And so for the writer, for he is like the puppy in our proverb: that stagnant water in the potsherd is for none other but him. As long as one people sit on another and are deaf to their cry, so long will understanding and peace elude all of us.* * *
Chinua Achebe established his reputation with Things Fall Apart, one of the first novels to be published in post-independence Africa. It was admired for many reasons, notably the tragic profundity of its theme and the insights it offered on traditional Ibo life. Western critics also approved of Achebe's acceptance of the formal conventions of the genre even while he proved that the English language could be modified to express the very different African cultural context. This book became both archetype and classic, and many budding authors have attempted to emulate Achebe without demonstrating his competence. Things Fall Apart has been translated into many languages and is an established text in schools. It has sustained extensive critical examination and yet its poignant story still retains its capacity to move the reader.
Achebe's declared intention was to provide evidence that traditional African life was not the primitive barbarism that was the common judgment of the colonialists. Set in the early period of the initial British intrusion into Nigeria, the novel shows a society which, if not perfect, had structure and dignity; where human relations had order and security. Into this world came the foreigner and "things fall apart." The title, taken from Yeats, makes a subtle comment on the theme, because it expresses some degree of inevitability rather than calculated cause. Perhaps neither side could foresee the consequences of actions which seemed entirely reasonable within their own context. Though setting straight the record, this is not an anti-colonialist novel in the simplistic sense. Achebe discerns a terrifying truth, that when powerful worlds clash, even the best of men are defeated and only the accommodators prosper. Okonkwo exemplifies all the virtues of his people, but he is too harsh and inflexible to tolerate the inescapable changes. His friend Obierika is a far weaker but more sensible person. He survives, like others who yield their honor and adapt, preferring prosperity at the cost of their heritage. While understanding that this is a reasonable decision, which in time created the society which Achebe inherits, he clearly indicates where honor rests. Okonkwo is "the greatest man."
Three further novels form a tetralogy which covers Ibo history from the first arrival of the British to the violent coup of 1966. Though third to be published, it is Arrow of God which carries on the historical sequence. Its theme is similar to that of Things Fall Apart. Ezeulu, a distinguished village man, this time a high priest, finds himself in conflict with the now established British administration, a conflict activated as much by ignorance as malice. Angered by imprisonment and the failure of his people to assist him, Ezeulu imposes harsh penalties upon them. At last their misery is so acute they turn to the Christian missionaries who are preaching a less oppressive religion. With a terrible irony the priest's fierce battle to sustain the tribal god causes his destruction. Again there is the depiction of strength, admirable in itself, but too harsh to see the advantage and necessity of compromise. The man who most exemplifies traditional virtues, just like Okonkwo, brings about their destruction along with his own. In a further plot twist, Ezeulu sends his son to learn the ways of the white missionaries. He does not anticipate the conversion of the boy who then denies his heritage and begins to exemplify the cultural ambivalence and generational opposition which education inescapably brings.
The other two novels examine this dualistic situation. The revealing title of No Longer at Ease comes from T.S. Eliott. Obi, a bright, eager young man, is sent to England to study and returns to the luxury of the high Civil Service appointment previously reserved for the British. He is confident and optimistic, feeling he represents the hopes for a better Nigeria which will flourish under the direction of this new class of youthful, educated, and therefore honest and efficient administrators. In fact his position imposes peculiar strains. A salary, huge by village standards, proves insufficient to live the European life expected of him. His indifference, even scorn, of the values of his tradition, learned during his time in England, offends his people who had funded him. Obi is exposed as an alien and becomes uncomfortable and ineffective in both worlds. He drifts into taking bribes and is soon as corrupt as those he used to despise. He is an inept crook, however, and is charged and imprisoned. At one level this is a depressing tale. If someone as decent as Obi succumbs, can anyone succeed in improving conditions in Nigeria? The cynical colonial characters express only passing surprise, gloating to find their prejudice confirmed: "All Africans are corrupt." Achebe has something much deeper to communicate. Given this history and these conditions, how is it possible for even the idealist to maintain his integrity? In the final analysis when the struggle with the system destroys even the best, who shall be blamed? It is a contemporary application of the issue raised in the two historical novels.
The situation in A Man of the People is even more depressing. It reflects the terrible political deterioration which Nigeria has suffered since independence. "The Man," is Nanga, a brutally corrupt politician who nevertheless manages to remain both popular and successful. The novel examines this disastrous paradox. The term "man of the people" seems to indicate an admirable figure. Then, as Nanga's vile deeds are revealed, the reader reverses his judgment. How can a crook be "of the people?" In an ending of shattering pessimism, Achebe seems to accept that people as greedy and immoral as these deserve such a man who does nothing more than exploit their own similar values; envy not accusation motivates the voters. The dedicated intellectual, Odili, is drawn not as the hero come to redeem his people, but as an arrogant and incompetent fool. His ideas are far more remote from the people's than Nanga's. Corruption they understand, merely wishing to share in it; idealism seems absurd and irrelevant. Naively unpolitical Odili is defeated and in the dismal conclusion makes off with the funds committed to his election campaign, justifying his theft with typical intellectual rationalizations. The nation falls into chaotic violence.
Achebe's pessimism was prescient. Social cohesion in Nigeria disintegrated. When the disastrous civil war broke out he was a prominent participant on the Biafran side. These efforts so preoccupied him and induced so deep a discouragement that since 1966 his output has been slender. From the battle came some short stories which realistically depicted the sufferings—and the continuing corruption—within the cause to which he had dedicated himself with such idealism and hope. His most poignant comments on the war are in the poems of Beware, Soul-Brother.
In 1987 a new novel appeared. Anthills of the Savannah ad-dresses the same themes. The decades of independence have brought only minimal reasons for hope. Ruling governments have oscillated between corrupt citizens and violent army generals. For the first time Achebe chooses to disguise the setting by inventing a fictional state, Kangan. The rulers and their practices are closely modeled on the actual atrocities of Amin's Uganda. This may be intended to universalize the African situation, or indicate that Achebe can no longer bear to contemplate directly the misery to which his own country has come. But there are some flickers of hope. Interestingly enough, it is the female characters who display strength and assurance through the corruption and violence.
Perhaps Achebe has begun to lose confidence in the generation which he has served. Nevertheless, his early quartet stands as a masterly achievement that will inform generations of readers of the disasters colonialism brought to Africa—sometimes with benign intentions. The tragic realization in the books of the human misery that results from massive social and economic change brings to the mind the Wessex novels of Hardy.
"Achebe, Chinua." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/achebe-chinua
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Achebe, (Albert) Chinua
"Achebe, (Albert) Chinua." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achebe-albert-chinua
"Achebe, (Albert) Chinua." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achebe-albert-chinua