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Chinua Achebe: Another feather to the cap of 'father of Modern African literature'
Author: Abdulaziz Ahmad Abdulaziz Fagge | July 02, 2007



“Glory is like a cycle in water, Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself , Till by broad spreading it disperses to naught” - William Shakespeare (1562-1616) Prof. Chinua Achebe is in the limelight again. However, unlike his contemporaries, it is not for a controversial outburst but rather for a glory he fetched for himself and indeed for the country and the black folk at large. Achebe has brought this pride to himself and the entire black race following his recent winning of the prestigious Man Booker Award for excellence in fiction. This certainly is another golden feather added to the literary shimmering cap of the genius Prof. Chinua Achebe. In this year’s race for the award, Achebe beat world renowned writers such as: Ian McEwen, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey, Carols Fuentes, Amos Oz, Doris Lessing, Michel Tournier and host of other prolific writers. To many the award did not come as a surprise because Achebe is worthy of it. It is a price for hard work and writing par excellence. The prize of the lump sum of £60,000 is therefore due to him. However, this recent bumper harvest of Achebe is not without its antecedents of bountiful sowing. His first work which is also considered as his magnum opus; Things Fall Apart (1958), was translated into fifty languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time. Estimates have it that 10 million copies of the said book were so far sold. Apart from being a celebrated novelist, poet and short story writer, Achebe gained no little fame and success as the founding editor of the famous African Writers’ Series, a publication of Heinemann publishers. It is obvious and doubtless fact that the series contributed in no small mean to the development of African literature of modern time. Similarly, it was the striking artistic jingoism of the series that called the attention of the world to the silent but salient contribution of Africa to the world literature. This was clearly pointed out by Achebe himself: “What African literature set about to do was to broaden the conception of literature in the world - to include Africa, which wasn't there,…In the stories we tell, it is intended to help us solve the problem of this failure that has overtaken the early sense of joy and happiness when Africans became independent, received their self-determination." And I suppose this intention is fully accomplished and realised. On the same terrain with Things Fall Apart, which was severally listed among the 100 greatest books of all time, Achebe supplied other important works viz; No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) A man of the People (1966), Chike And the River (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1988). Apart from these six outstanding novels, Achebe has four collections of short stories and other four collections of poetry. Popular among them are: Girls at War (collection of short stories) and Beware Soul brother and other poems (a collection of poetry, also published as Christmas at Biafra and other poems). His notable political commentaries and other national issues are in his books, namely; Morning yet on Creation Day (1975), The Trouble with Nigeria (1984), and Home and Exile (2000), among others. In addition to these, Achebe is the founding editor of Okike, an anthology of poetry. Of course the anthology has now grown to a recognised and acclaimed periodic anthology not only of Nigerian egocentric but also the world over. Moreover, in his enthusiasm to see the development of indigenous literature, and of African heritage, Achebe established Uwa ndi Igbo, an Igbo journal of language and literature. Great works indeed can never go in vain, thus, Chinua Achebe’s contribution to the literary development has attracted applause from all nooks and crannies of the world. Therefore, it is on the basis of hard work and determination that Achebe earned an indelible reputation, which Socrates describe as the most expensive jewel one can possibly possess. In appreciation of his tremendous achievements, thirty different universities across the globe conferred him with honorary doctorate degrees. Famous among whose are those of Harvard, Dartmouth , Southampton, University of Toronto etc. In the same vein, Achebe, received numerous prizes and awards which includes the prestigious Peace Prize of German Book Trade, the Commonwealth Poetry prize, Fellowship of the Modern Language Association of America, the Margaret Wrong Prize, Nigerian National Trophy (1961). He is the second after the Nobel Prize winner, Heinrich Boll, to receive the Scottish Arts Council’s Neil Gunn Fellowship. He was offered the second ranking Nigerian national award of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), in 2004, but patriotic Achebe declined in protest of the state of affairs in the country. Born some seventy seven (77) years ago, precisely, on 16th November, 1930 at Ogidi in the present Anambra state, Achebe is from the family of born again Christian Protestants. Young Achebe, attended the famous Government College Umuahia and the University of Ibadan then known as the University of London, where he read; English, history and theology. Achebe proceeded to read broadcasting at the British Broadcasting Corporation which paved his ways to be the first Director, External Broadcasting at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1961. During the Nigerian Civil War that spanned from 1967-1970, Achebe took a position with the Biafran Government as an ambassador, an experience that inspired most of his latter works. Prof. Achebe taught at several universities spanning many years of academic excellence that consumed greater part of his life. At various times he was at the universities of Massachutes, University of Nigeria Nsukka , Connecticut and presently Charles B. Stevenson professor of Languages and Literature at the Bard College New York . To many people Achebe has far deserved the Nobel Laureate Prize for Literature. However, his criticism of European and Western ideology and racism is seen as his greatest obstacle to the prestigious Nobel Prize. Achebe is well known for his vehement decry of such western discriminations and undermining of Africa . His criticism of such scholars as; Joseph Conrad, Albert Schweitzer and V. S. Naipaul are considered as a kind of Western-phobia. Remarkably, among them is his essay: An Image of Africa : Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, has became one of the most debated and widely studied literary criticism in academic environments all over the world. By the way, as Charles Caleb Calton (1780-1832) treatises: “There are two modes of establishing our reputation: to be praised by honest men, and to be abused by rogues.” He however, suggests the imperative one “It is best, however, to secure the former for it will invariably accompanied by the latter” therefore, no matter what the “few” think and take Achebe to be, it is undeniably fact that his contributions even if not “praised” will remain relevant, important and indelible from the sand of time. Hearty cheers to an achiever!!! Sir, more grease to your elbows!!!

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