Nigeria’s literary icon and publisher of several novels, Chinua Achebe, is dead.
Mr. Achebe, 82, died in the United States where he was said to have suffered from an undisclosed ailment.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt he died last night in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, United States.
A statement from his family said his “wisdom and courage” were an “inspiration to all who knew him”.
A source close to the family was first to confirm the literary icon’s passing to PREMIUM TIMES, saying the professor had been ill for a while and was hospitalised in an undisclosed hospital in Boston. The source declined to be named because he was not authorised by the family to speak on the matter.
He also declined to provide further details, saying the family would issue a statement on the development.
Until his death, the renowned author of Things Fall Apart was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown.
The University described him as “known the world over for having played a seminal role in the founding and development of African literature.”
“Achebe’s global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa,” Brown University writes of the literary icon.
Mr. Achebe was the author of Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, and considered the most widely read book in modern African Literature. The book sold over 12 million copies and has been translated to over 50 languages worldwide.
Many of his other novels, including Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, Anthills of the Savannah, and A man of the People, were equally influential as well.
Prof Achebe was born in Ogidi, Anambra State, on November 16, 1930 and attended St Philips’ Central School at the age of six. He moved away from his family to Nekede, four kilometres from Owerri, the capital of Imo State, at the age of 12 and registered at the Central School there.
He attended Government College Umuahia for his secondary school education. He was a pioneer student of the University College, now University of Ibadan in 1948. He was first admitted to study medicine but changed to English, history and theology after his first year.
While studying at Ibadan, Mr. Achebe began to become critical of European literature about Africa. He eventually wrote his final papers in the University in 1953 and emerged with a second-class degree.
Prof Achebe taught for a while after graduation before joining the Nigeria Broadcasting Service in 1954 in Lagos.
While in Lagos with the Broadcast ing Service, Mr. Achebe met Christie Okoli, who later became his wife; they got married in 1961. The couple had four children.
He also played a major role during the Nigeria Civil War where he joined the Biafran Government as an ambassador.
His latest book, There Was a Country, was an autobiography on his experiences and views of the civil war. The book was probably the most criticised of his writings especially by Nigerians, with many arguing that the professor did not write a balanced account and wrote more as a Biafran than as a Nigerian.
Mr. Achebe was a consistent critic of various military dictators that ruled Nigeria and was a loud voice in denouncing the failure of governance in the country.
Twice, he rejected offers by the Nigerian government to grant him a national honour, citing the deplorable political situations in the country, particularly in his home state of Anambra, as reason.
Below is how Brown University profiled him on its website.
“Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe is known the world over for having played a seminal role in the founding and development of African literature. He continues to be considered among the most significant world writers. He is most well known for the groundbreaking 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, a novel still considered to be required reading the world over. It has sold over twelve million copies and has been translated into more than fifty languages.
“Achebe’s global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa. He is renowned, for example, for “An Image of Africa,” his trenchant and famous critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Today, this critique is recognized as one of the most generative interventions on Conrad; and one that opened the social study of literary texts, particularly the impact of power relations on 20th century literary imagination.
“In addition, Achebe is distinguished in his substantial and weighty investment in the building of literary arts institutions. His work as the founding editor of the Heinemann African Writers Series led to his editing over one hundred titles in it. Achebe also edited the University of Nsukka journal Nsukkascope, founded Okike: A Nigerian Journal of New Writingand assisted in the founding of a publishing house, Nwamife Books–an organization responsible for publishing other groundbreaking work by award-winning writers. He continues his long-standing work on the development of institutional spaces where writers can be published and develop creative and intellectual community.”