Achebe not father of African literature, says Soyinka

Writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe

Soyinka says Achebe’s last book was a mistake.

Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has given a rare portrayal of his late friend and respected novelist, Chinua Achebe, disputing an often referencing of Mr. Achebe as the father of African literature.

He also picked holes in Mr. Achebe’s last work, There Was a Country, which turned out the author’s most controversial.

In an extensive interview with news website, Saharareporters, Mr. Soyinka said while Mr. Acehbe’s place in history as a celebrated storyteller was “definitely assured”, referring to him as the father of African literature was either “literary ignorance” or “momentary exuberance to which we are all sometimes prone”.

“Those who seriously believe or promote this must be asked: have you the sheerest acquaintance with the literatures of other African nations, in both indigenous and adopted colonial languages?” he asked.

“What must the francophone, lusophone, Zulu, Xhosa, Ewe etc. etc. literary scholars and consumers think of those who persist in such a historic absurdity? It’s as ridiculous as calling WS father of contemporary African drama! Or Mazisi Kunene father of African epic poetry. Or Kofi Awoonor father of African poetry. Education is lacking in most of those who pontificate.”

Mr. Achebe’s funeral is scheduled for next week at his hometown in Anambra state amid controversies between his family, and associates over the involvement of the Nigerian government in the preparations for the event.

Mr. Soyinka said he had no opportunity to discuss Mr. Achebe’s last work, There Was a Country, with the author before he passed; but said he wished the book, which sparked controversy, was never written.

“Unfortunately, that chance of a last encounter was missed so I don’t really wish to comment on the work at this point,” Mr. Soyinka said of a planned meeting with the late novelist after the book’s release. “It is however a book I wish he had never written – that is, not in the way it was. There are statements in that work that I wish he had never made.”

Since its release, the book has drawn a series of critical reviews; and fueled an intense, mainly internet-centered row between the Igbo and the Yoruba over Mr. Achebe’s characterization of the Yoruba leader, Obafemi Awolowo, as amongst those who helped inflict mass deaths and suffering on the Igbos during Nigeria’s bloody civil war.

Mr. Soyinka admitted the Igbos were victims of genocide prior to the war; but said both sides committed atrocities during the war, in remarks that seemed amongst his most frank public impression of a former friend and colleague, and the war controversy.

He however said the Igbos must remember that they were not militarily prepared for the war, a point, he said, he raised with late Biafran leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu.

“The reading of most Igbo over what happened before the Civil War was indeed accurate – yes, there was only one word for it – genocide,” he said.

“Once the war began however, atrocities were committed by both sides, and the records are clear on that. The Igbo got the worst of it, however. That fact is indisputable. The Asaba massacre is well documented, name by victim name, and General Gowon visited personally to apologize to the leaders.

He denied there was a real conflict between himself and Mr. Achebe, J.P. Clark and Christopher Okigbo, fueled by the desire to dominate the rest in the writing art.

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