Novelist Chinua Achebe was regarded as one of the foremost voices in African literature. He was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in Nigeria on November 16, 1930. Achebe was the son of a priest who didn’t begin writing until he was in his 20s. His books, such as Things Fall Apart, A Man of the People and Arrow of Good, told stories of everyday people. They mixed ancient folklore as well as tackling more common issues such as grief and joy. Achebe brought stories from the Igbo into his books. In 2007, his work was recognized when he won the Man Booker Price. Achebe died in Boston in March 2013 after battling an illness for some time.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Achebe Once Called Celebrated Writer Joseph Conrad a ‘Bloody Racist’
Achebe made world news in February 1975 while he was giving a speech at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The lecture was titled, An Image in Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness. During which time, Achebe said that celebrated writer Joseph Conrad was a “bloody racist.” Heart of Darkness was remodeled into the Oscar-winning Apocalypse Now in the 1970s. Achebe described the book as being “totally deplorable.”
While in an essay, Achebe wrote that in Heart of Darkness, Conrad had relegated “Africa to the role of props for the breakup of one petty European mind.”
2. He Was an Adamant Supporter of the Biafran Independence Movement
In 1967, Achebe’s home-region of Biafran opted to break away from Nigeria. Achebe was a strong supporter of this independence and even became an ambassador for the new nation. He would travel around the world soliciting support for the new country. In 1970, the Nigerian military retook the Biafran region. Despite his efforts to get involved in the politics of the time, Achebe quickly became disillusioned with the corruption and opportunism. He would then return to writing.
Achebe’s 1966 novel A Man of the People, was said to follow the line of the Biafran movement to such a degree that he was considered to have been a conspirator, according to his New York Times obituary.
3. It Was Only After Reading an Irish Writer’s Description of a Nigerian Did Achebe Decide to Pick Up His Pen
While a student at the University of Ibadan, Achebe began studying English after a year of studying medicine. He had been awarded a scholarship to study medicine. It was during this time that Achebe was introduced to the African novels of Irish writer Joyce Cary. It was after Cary’s interpretation of a Nigerian in 1939’s Mister Johnson that Achebe was convinced to pick up his pen, according to a 2000 feature in the Atlantic. Achebe’s assertion had been that Cary portrayed Nigerians as idiots and savages. It became Achebe’s desire to show Nigerian characters in a much more complex light.
4. At the Time of His Death, Achebe Was Survived by His Wife & 4 Daughters
At the time of his death, Achebe was survived by his wife, Christie, their daughters, Chinelo and Nwando, their sons, Ikechukwu and Chidi. According to his Guardian obituary, Achebe met his bride while he was working for Nigeria’s Broadcasting Service in eastern Nigeria. She was a student at Ibadan University when they met.
In 1990, Achebe had become paralyzed due to a car accident, according to the BBC. After that incident, Achebe took the opportunity to lecture at Bard College in New York. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Achebe continued to tour and speak tirelessly. A series of lectures at Harvard were published under the title, Home and Exile.
5. Achebe Once Said: ‘A Man Who Makes Trouble for Others Is Also Making Trouble for Himself’
Achebe was known for his famed quotations about life, literature and everything else. Here are some of his most poignant messages he gave to the world:
When a tradition gathers enough strength to go on for centuries, you don’t just turn it off one day.
One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.
When old people speak it is not because of the sweetness of words in our mouths; it is because we see something which you do not see.
The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement; it is this.
I tell my students, it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.
Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.
In fact, I thought that Christianity was very a good and a very valuable thing for us. But after a while, I began to feel that the story that I was told about this religion wasn’t perhaps completely whole, that something was left out.
The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.
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