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Chinua Achebe: Doyen of African Literature

Picture: Bard College

Currently Charles P. Stevenson, Jr. Professor of Languages &
Literature at New York's Bard College, Chinua Achebe is widely
recognised as the father of the modern African novel.

Things Fall Apart, published in 1958 was his first book
and it brought him instance recognition. The book have
since sold over eight million copies and translated into 50
languages.

Achebe was born in  Ogidi, Eastern Nigeria  in 1930 to a
devout Christian family. After primary school, he
attended Government College, Umuahia, Nigeria. In
1948, he was admitted to Nigeria's first university, the
University of Ibadan, to study medicine but after one
year changed to English literature and History.

After university, he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting
Corporation and it was while he was on a training course
at the BBC in London, that the manuscript of "Things Fall
Apart" came into the attention of a publisher.

In 1966 Nigeria suffered ethnic violence, and in 1967 civil
war broke out, with the Ibos of the eastern region
attempting to establish an independent Republic of
Biafra.

During the three-year struggle Achebe sought to
publicise the plight of his people. His collection of poems
about the war, Beware, Soul Brother, was published in
1971, appearing in the United States as Christmas in
Biafra and Other Poems.

After the Nigerian civil war, Achebe returned to Nigeria as
an English professor at the University of Nigera, Nssuka.

He has since published several novels, short stories,
poetries and essays; all to critical acclaim.

Achebe's favourite theme has always been his native
Nigeria and the Ibo ethnic group of that country.

He has also lampooned Joseph Conrad's "Heart of
Darkness" as reinforcing a racist view of Africa. He
believes the book emphasised the continent's image as
a place of negation that makes "Europe's spiritual grace
manifest."

"The whole purpose of African literature in my view is to
change the perception of the world as far as Africans are
concerned," he said. "So I have been very busy
spreading that good news, that Africans are people, that
we are not savages and cannibals."

He is a United Nations's Special Ambassador and he is
widely sought after in literary circles around the world.

Achebe has received more than twenty honorary
doctorates and several international literary prizes. He is
a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts
and Letters.

In 2004, Achebe refused Nigeria's highest honour in
protest at the country's sordid democracy.

Prospect magazine and Foreign Affairs magazine have
just nominate him as one of the world's top 100 public
intellectuals. He is married with children.

Profile: Chinua Achebe

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