On Thursday, March 21, Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, or Chinua Achebe, as he was known to book lovers worldwide, died in Boston. He was 82.
In 1958 Achebe published Things Fall Apart (Anchor), which charts the the rise and fall of Ibo farmer Okokonkwo set against the backdrop of rising 19th century British colonial rule and culture clashes in Nigeria. Today, Things Fall Apart has been translated into 45 languages and sold more than 10 million copies. The novel, and Achebe’s subsequent works transformed international publishing and the ways in which we viewed literature. True, there had been other Nigerian writers before Achebe including Amos Tutuola and Cyprian Ekwensi. But Things Fall Apart connected with readers in ways readers hadn’t experienced African narratives.
Achebe widened the lens on Nigeria and Ibo culture. In doing so, he challenged stereotypical images of African life and culture across the continent. Achebe published subsequent novels such as No Longer at Ease (1964) and A Man of the People (1966). His biographical essay collections including Home and Away, and his recent memoir There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra revealed a life filled with unimaginable challenges (a 1990 car accident left him partially paralyzed) and uncommon grace. We can see Achebe’s influence in writers ranging from Toni Morrison to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
He opened up a world for us to see, and once there, he gave us license to use our experiences, culture, and imagination to tell the stories of our people, our tribes, in whatever placae we live. For that, we are all eternally, grateful