Chinua Achebe (16 November 1930 – 21 March 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. His first novel Things Fall Apart (1958), often considered his masterpiece, is the most widely read book in modern African literature.
Full Name: Albert Chinualumogu Achebe
Born: 16 November 1930
Birth place: Ogidi, British Nigeria
Died: 21 March 2013 (aged 82)
Death place: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting place: Ogidi, Anambra, Nigeria
Famous as: Writer and teacher
—David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of African Studies Brown University (2009–2013)
—Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature Bard College (1990–2008)
Notable works: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, A Man of the People, Anthills of the Savannah
Nigerian National Order of Merit Award 1979
St. Louis Literary Award 1999
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize 2010
Years active: 1930–2013
Spouse: Christiana Chinwe Okoli
Children: 4, including Chidi and Nwando
Biographical and educational history
Chinua Achebe was born as Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in Nigeria to Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Ilogbunam. He had five surviving siblings.
His parents had stopped practicing their traditional religion and had converted to Christianity. Therefore as a young boy Achebe was exposed to a combination of traditionalism as well as Christian influence.
Raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship to study medicine, but changed his studies to English literature at University College (now the University of Ibadan).
He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos.
Chinua Achebe gained worldwide attention for his novel Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s; his later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987).
Achebe wrote his novels in English and defended the use of English, a “language of colonisers”, in African literature. In 1975, his lecture “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” featured a criticism of Joseph Conrad as “a thoroughgoing racist”; it was later published in The Massachusetts Review amid some controversy.
When the region of Biafra broke away from Nigeria in 1967, Achebe became a supporter of Biafran independence and acted as ambassador for the people of the new nation. The civil war that took place over the territory, commonly known as the Nigerian Civil War, ravaged the populace, and as starvation and violence took its toll, he appealed to the people of Europe and the Americas for aid.
When the Nigerian government retook the region in 1970, he involved himself in political parties but soon resigned due to frustration over the corruption and elitism he witnessed.
He lived in the United States for several years in the 1970s, and returned to the U.S. in 1990, after a car crash left him partially disabled.
A titled Igbo chief himself, Achebe’s novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era.
His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. He also published a large number of short stories, children’s books, and essay collections.
Upon Achebe’s return to the United States in 1990, he began an eighteen-year tenure at Bard College as the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature.
From 2009 until his death, he served as David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.
Chinua Achebe was born on 16 November 1930. Achebe’s parents, Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam, were converts to the Protestant Church Mission Society (CMS) in Nigeria.
The elder Achebe stopped practicing the religion of his ancestors, but he respected its traditions. Achebe’s unabbreviated name, Chinualumogu (“May God fight on my behalf”), was a prayer for divine protection and stability.
Chinua Achebe writings include his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), Anthills of Savannah (1987), and his last There Was a Country originally published in (2012).
The Achebe family had five other surviving children, named in a similar fusion of traditional words relating to their new religion: Frank Okwuofu, John Chukwuemeka Ifeanyichukwu, Zinobia Uzoma, Augustine Ndubisi, and Grace Nwanneka.
Storytelling was a part of their rich Nigerian tradition and he grew up listening to the stories told by his family members.
He joined St. Philip’s Central School in 1936. He was a very bright student and appreciated by his teachers.
He was accepted into the highly prestigious Government College in Umuahia in 1944. An exceptionally brilliant student, he completed his studies there in just four years instead of the standard five. He loved the library and spent hours reading books by different authors.
He got admitted as a Major Scholar in Nigeria’s first university, the University College in 1948 and was also given a scholarship to study medicine. However his interest was not in medicine and he shifted to study English, history and theology, and lost his scholarship in the process.
He started writing while at the university and made his debut as an author with his article ‘Polar Undergraduate’ in the ‘University Herald’ in 1950. He also wrote numerous other stories, essays and letters during this time. He graduated from the college in 1953.
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Chinua Achebe worked as a teacher at a small school in a dilapidated building for four months. He encouraged his students to develop a reading habit.
In 1954, Chinua Achebe got an opportunity to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) in Lagos. His job was to prepare scripts for oral delivery. His experience there helped him in writing realistic dialogues later on in his writing career.
During this time he also began working on a novel. As a student he had been critical of the manner in which European writers portrayed Africa and its culture, and was determined to depict his culture realistically himself.
He was inspired by the works of the Nigerian writer Cyprian Ekwensi who was primarily an exception in the literary world which had seen few other notable writers from Nigeria.
Chinua Achebe was appointed at the Staff School run by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1956 and this gave him the chance to go to London and get feedback on the novel he was working on.
After editing and revising his novel, he sent it to a London company for publishing. His debut novel, ‘Things Fall Apart’ was released in 1958. The book was well received, and ‘The Observer’ called it ‘an excellent novel’.
His second novel, ‘No Longer at Ease’ (1960) dealt with a man who gets entangled in a world of corruption and is arrested for taking a bribe.
Chinua Achebe became the Director of External Broadcasting at the NBS and helped to create the Voice of Nigeria network. The network’s first broadcast transmission was on New Year’s Day 1962.
He attended an executive conference of African writers in English in Uganda where he met other prominent writers from around the world including Kofi Awoonor, Wole Soyinka and Langston Hughes.
His novel ‘Arrow of God’ was out in 1964, followed by ‘A Man of the People’ in 1966.
In 1967, he along with a friend Christopher Okigbo started a publishing company called Citadel Press to promote better quality of African literature available to children.
Chinua Achebe became a research fellow and later a professor of English at the University of Nigeria in 1976 and held this post till 1981.
He spent most of the 1980s traveling, attending conferences and delivering speeches.
His novel ‘Anthills of the Savannah’ published in 1987 was about a military coup in a fictional African land.
In 1990, he was involved in a tragic car accident that left him paralyzed from waist below; he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The disability, however, could not demoralize the courageous writer and he became the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College, New York.
In 2009 he became a member of the Brown University faculty as the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor of Africana Studies.
ong>Chinua Achebe Works
His debut novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is one of the first African novels in English to have received global critical acclaim. The book is widely read throughout the world and has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Called “the father of modern African writing”, Chinua Achebe was one of the most widely read novelists from Nigeria who played a pivotal role in the development of African literature.
Considered to be a major writer in not just the country of his birth but throughout the world, his debut novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ has sold over 12 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages.
As an academically brilliant student at school he was often praised by his teachers for his reading skills. He easily got accepted into a prestigious college where he discovered his love for African culture and reading.
Chinua Achebe began writing during his university years and became a teacher after graduation. A voracious reader, he was disappointed with the European interpretation of African culture and disturbed by the non-African authors’ ignorance about Africa and its people. Determined to present a realistic picture of Africa to the world, he set about writing his novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ which was published after considerable editing and revising.
The book was well received and went on to become one of the most significant books in African literature. He wrote several other critically acclaimed novels and eventually won the Man Booker International Prize.
Awards & Achievements
Chinua Achebe was presented the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 for his literary career. Judge Nadine Gordimer called him the ‘father of modern African literature’ at the Award ceremony.
He won The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in 2010. The annual prize is given to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”
He has received over 30 honorary degrees from universities all over the world.
Nelson Mandela cites him as one of his favourite authors.
Family and personal life
Chinua Achebe married Christie Okoli in 1961 and had four children. He went on to become a grandfather of six.
He died after an illness in 2013.
List of works by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart (1958). E.g. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. ISBN 0385474547
No Longer at Ease (1960). E.g. Penguin Books, 1994. ISBN 0385474555
Arrow of God (1964). E.g. Penguin Books, 2016. ISBN 0385014805
A Man of the People (1966). E.g. Penguin Books, 1989. ISBN 0385086164
Anthills of the Savannah (1987). New York: Anchor Books, 1998. ISBN 0385260458
Marriage Is a Private Affair (1952)
Dead Men’s Path (1953)
The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories (1953)
Civil Peace (1971)
Girls at War and Other Stories (including “Vengeful Creditor”) (1973) ISBN 9780385008525
African Short Stories (editor, with C. L. Innes) (1985) ISBN 9780435905361
The Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Short Stories (editor, with C. L. Innes) (1992) ISBN 9780435905668
The Voter ISBN 9781874932130
Beware, Soul-Brother, and Other Poems(1971) (published in the US as Christmas in Biafra, and Other Poems, 1973) ISBN 9780385016414
Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo (editor, with Dubem Okafor) (1978) ISBN 9789781560217
Another Africa (with Robert Lyons) (1998) ISBN 9780385490382
Collected Poems – Penguin Books, 2004. ISBN 1400076587
Refugee Mother and Child
Essays, criticism, non-fiction and political commentary
The Novelist as Teacher (1965) – also in Hopes and Impediments
An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (1975) – also in Hopes and Impediments ISBN 9780141192581
Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) ISBN 9780385017039
The Trouble With Nigeria (1984). Reissued by Fourth Dimension Publishing Co., 2000 ISBN 9781561475
Hopes and Impediments (1988) ISBN 9780385414791
Home and Exile (2000). Penguine Books (reprint) 2001, ISBN 0385721331
The Education of a British-Protected Child (6 October 2009). Anchor Canada 2010 ISBN 038566785X
There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (11 October 2012) ISBN 9781594204821
Africa’s Tarnished Name (22 February 2018) ISBN 9780241338834
Chike and the River (1966) ISBN 9780307473868
How the Leopard Got His Claws (with John Iroaganachi) (1972) ISBN 9780763648053
The Flute (1975) ISBN 9781943138487
The Drum (1978) ISBN 9789781560439