The literary world is mourning another loss. Chinua Achebe, coined the “Father of Modern African Literature,” has died in Boston at 82.
The acclaimed novelist, poet, essayist and activist has been a titan in literature since the 1958 release of his debut novel, Things Falls Apart. The monumental book tells the story of Okonkwo, an Ibo village leader and farmer that is contending with nineteenth-century British colonialism. It is one of the most-widely read works of fiction ever and is required reading in schools throughout the world. Things Fall Apart has sold more than 8 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 different languages.
Achebe’s literary accomplishment garnered massive approbation, leading former South African president Nelson Mandela to deem him the man who “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”
His work influenced all subsequent African writers and cultural observers.
“It would be impossible to say how Things Fall Apart influenced African writing,” African scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah once explained. “It would be like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians. Achebe didn’t only play the game, he invented it.”
Achebe also released several other influential works, including Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, Anthills of the Savannah and A Man of the People.
His last work, There Was a Country, is a memoir detailing his experiences in the Nigerian civil war.
Achebe was a master wordsmith. He had full command of the English language and wielded his pen expertly. He penned hundreds of powerful short stories, essays and poems rooted in his native Nigeria, including the hard-hitting 1975 critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” reduced Conrad’s work to a tool of European oppression. He described Heart of Darkness’ description of Africa as “a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril,” and then asked the question, “Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?”
The “An Image of Africa” essay and several other introspective pieces transformed Achebe into the first modern novelist to challenge Western invasion of African countries and to portray a counter-narrative of the dominant discourse surrounding colonization.
“In all Achebe’s writing there is an intense moral energy,” observed Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University professor of Afro-American studies in 2000. “He speaks about the task of the writer in language that captures the sense of threat and loss that must have faced many Africans as empire invaded and disrupted their lives.”
Achebe was also an academic. His last appointment was at Brown University, which is the institution that first broke news of his death in a press statement.
He is mourned and missed in literature, but his family is requesting privacy. In a statement they called him “a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him.”
You are missed Chinua Achebe. Thank you for your contributions. Thank you for your words. Sleep in literary peace.