Chinualumogu Achebe

November 16, 1930-March 21, 2013

Chinua Achebe, fifth of his parents’ six children, was raised in a Christian evangelical family in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Igboland, Eastern Nigeria. He attended Government College, Umuahia, and University College Ibadan, graduating BA (London) in 1953.

His first career in radio ended abruptly in 1966 when he left his position as Director of External Broadcasting, Lagos during the national upheaval and massacres that led to the Biafran War.  He had narrowly escaped confrontation with armed soldiers who apparently believed that his recently published novel, A Man of the People, implicated him in Nigeria’s first military coup.

Mr. Achebe is a novelist who makes you laugh—and then catch your breath in horror.

Nadine Gordimer

His career in universities began in 1967 with his appointment as Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the eastern part of the country, which was soon to become the short-lived Republic of Biafra. He and his family lived in that enclave throughout the war although he made a few lecture and diplomatic visits abroad.

PHOTO 2020 06 16 16 31 23
Chinua Achebe (second from left).

From 1972 to 1975 he taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as Professor of English and from 1975 to 1976 at the University of Connecticut, Storrs as University Professor of English in succession to Rex Warner, the English writer, and classicist.

Achebe took early retirement from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1981 and was made Emeritus Professor in 1985. To mark his sixtieth year in 1990 the University hosted an international symposium for writers, scholars, and critics, from February 12-14. He received a citation from the Soviet Academy of Sciences on the occasion; and the university town of Nsukka renamed a major street after him. Since then, three major Nigerian roads have been named after him.

African literature is incomplete and unthinkable without the works of Chinua Achebe.

Toni Morrison

He published novels, short stories, essays, and children’s books. Achebe was the recipient of over 40 honorary degrees from universities in England, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, and the United States, including Dartmouth College, Harvard, the Open University, and Brown University. He was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, an Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Nigerian National Order of Merit (Nigeria’s highest honor for academic work), Italy’s prestigious International Nonino Prize and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. In 2007, he won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize. This was followed in 2010 by one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. He also received the National Art Club’s Medal of Honor for Literature (New York, USA); and served on the contributing editorial board of the literary journal Conjunctions.

IMG 0071
Chinua Achebe (right) with his mother, Janet Anaenechi Iloeghunam.

Achebe is regarded as the father of modern African writing.  In 1992 he became the first living author to be included in the prestigious Alfred A. Knopf Everyman’s Library collection. Many writers view his work as being instrumental in concretizing their own literary visions. Pulitzer Prize poet, Yusef Komunyakaa writes that Achebe: “helped me steal back myself. Although sometimes the right hand wrestles the left, you showed me there’s a time for reed flues and another for machetes . . . ” Margaret Atwood describes him as “a magical writer—one of the greatest of the twentieth century.” Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer writes that “Mr. Achebe is a novelist who makes you laugh—and then catch your breath in horror . . . Achebe is gloriously gifted with the magic of an ebullient, generous, great talent.” Another Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison put it this way: “African literature is incomplete and unthinkable without the works of Chinua Achebe. For passion, intellect, and crystalline prose, he is unsurpassed.” For Poet Laureate Maya Angelou, Things Fall Apart is a book in which “all readers meet their brothers, sisters, parents and friends and themselves along Nigerian roads. I, too, find myself among its pages as accurately as I see my mirror reflection.” John Updike declares that Things Fall Apart is a great book, and everything Achebe writes bespeaks a great, brave, kind, human spirit.” For John Edgar Wideman, “It’s as if the great antiquity, wisdom, poise, and dignity of traditional African culture begins to speak to me through the eloquent voices of a [village] elder.” President Nelson Mandela writes that Achebe is a “freedom fighter,” an author “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”

In 2008, Things Fall Apart marked its fiftieth year, and several conferences and events were held across the globe in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia, to celebrate the author and his canonical first novel. Coinciding with this milestone was the completion of a new book of autobiographical essays called Education of A British Protected Child published a year later, on October 6, 2009.

Everything Achebe writes bespeaks a great, brave, kind, human spirit.

John Updike

In March 2009, Chinua Achebe, visited the Indiana campus of the University of Notre Dame, to deliver the 2009 Blessed Pope John XXIII Lecture Series in Theology and Culture. The three part lectures was on “The Igbo and their Perception of God, Human Beings and Creation.” This theological treatise is seen by some literary critics as both a major thematic departure for Achebe, as well as a homecoming of sorts, given the fact that he studied theology, history, and literature, at the University College, Ibadan, as a student.

In September, 2009, Achebe was named the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University where he served in the Department of Africana Studies and oversaw the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa—an initiative developed by Achebe in keeping with his life’s work to foster greater knowledge of Africa.

The literary world was a buzz with the news that Achebe in 2012, on the fifty second anniversary of Nigeria’s independence, and the forty second anniversary of the end of the Biafran war; Achebe published a major opus, There Was  A County: A Personal History of Biafra. It details a chronological history of events that led to, occurred during, and took place immediately after one of the bloodiest wars in history that claimed about 2 million lives.

Scroll to Top