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Chinua Achebe

(1930-2013), Nigerian

Biography

Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, a large village in Nigeria. Although he was the child of a Protestant missionary and received his early education in English, his upbringing was multicultural, as the inhabitants of Ogidi still lived according to many aspects of traditional Igbo (formerly written as Ibo) culture. Achebe attended the Government College in Umuahia from 1944 to 1947. He graduated from University College, Ibadan, in 1953. While he was in college, Achebe studied history and theology. He also developed his interest in indigenous Nigerian cultures, and he rejected his Christian name, Albert, for his indigenous one, Chinua.

After receiving his B.A., Chinua Achebe taught and joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Lagos in 1954. In 1961, he was appointed director of External Broadcasting but resigned in 1966 to dedicate himself full-time to writing and teaching. Since then, he has taught at many universities around the world including African, American, Canadian, and British institutions. He has received a vast number of awards and honorary degrees and has come to be considered one of the leading African writers of his time.

In the 1950s, Achebe was one of the founders of a Nigerian literary movement that drew upon the traditional oral culture of its indigenous peoples. In 1959, he published Things Fall Apart as a response to novels, such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that treat Africa as a primordial and cultureless foil for Europe. Tired of reading white men’s accounts of how primitive, socially backward, and, most important, language-less native Africans were, Achebe sought to convey a fuller understanding of one African culture and, in so doing, give voice to an underrepresented and exploited colonial subject.

The most important aspect of Achebe's writing is his dedication to the socio- political fabrics of the societies in which he lives and has lived—that of a colonial and post-colonial African society. Throughout the 1940s, fifties and sixties, there was a growing sense of self-determination among the African people who had been colonized by the English and French. It was evident that a new era would arise in which the colonized would want to claim their independence. And, those who were writers would want to "write back" to the colonizer. In other words, because the English in Nigeria, for example had instilled the English language and the tradition of English literature, Nigerian writers were beginning to write in the very same language of colonial rule, making the writing both more complex, and, in many ways, more powerful in its intent. However, this was no longer a literature about England—it was now a local African literature written in the complex tongue of the ruling English.

Achebe has become renowned throughout the world as a father of modern African literature, essayist, and professor of English literature at Bard College in New York. But Achebe’s achievements are most concretely reflected by his prominence in Nigeria’s academic culture and in its literary and political institutions. He was also quite influential in the publication of new Nigerian writers. In 1967, he co-founded a publishing company with a Nigerian poet named Christopher Okigbo and in 1971, he began editing Okike, a respected journal of Nigerian writing. In 1984, he founded Uwa ndi Igbo, a bilingual magazine containing a great deal of information about Igbo culture.

Achebe died after an illness in Boston, Massachusetts, and was laid to rest in Nigeria.

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SparkNotes

Chinua Achebe Quotes

One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.

A man who makes trouble for others is also making trouble for himself.

Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.

The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.

Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.

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Novels

Short Stories