Africa, as an exotic place filled with ‘‘unknowable’’ people, has figured prominently in European literature and in the European imagination. Achebe has distinguished himself as a writer by presenting Africa from an African perspective and by pointing out the ways in which European cultural prejudices have affected not only the way Africa and Africans have been portrayed in literature and popular culture, but how Africa and Africans have been treated by imperial powers.
Chinua Achebe's Fast ProfileBORN: 1930, Ogidi, Nigeria
GENRE: Novels, poetry, essays
MAJOR WORKS:Things Fall Apart (1958)
No Longer at Ease (1960)
Arrow of God (1964)
A Man of the People (1966)
Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
Chinua Achebe's Facts
- Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930, in the village of Ogidi in eastern Nigeria to Janet Iloegbunam Achebe and Isaiah Okafor Achebe.
- At the time of Achebe's birth, Nigeria was a British colony, and Western educational and economic models dominated.
- Achebe’s father taught religion for the Church Missionary Society. Chinua Achebe was eight when he began to learn English and fourteen when he went to the Government College at Umuahia in southeastern Nigeria.
- He enrolled in 1948 at University College, Ibadan, Nigeria, intending to study medicine, but soon switched to English literary studies.
- Achebe rejected the British name ‘‘Albert’’ and took his indigenous name ‘‘Chinua’’ in 1948, a time of growing Nigerian nationalism and increased pressure on Great Britain to grant the colony independence.
- Achebe contributed stories, essays, and sketches to the University Herald, which were later published in Girls at War and Other Stories (1972).
- After graduating, Achebe taught for a year and then began a twelve-year career as a producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.
- In 1957, he went to London to attend the British Broadcasting Corporation Staff School. One of his teachers there was the British novelist and literary critic Gilbert Phelps, who recommended Things Fall Apart for publication.
- Achebe was appointed director of the Voice of Nigeria (external broadcasting) by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1961.
- That same year, on September 10, he married Christie Chinwe Okoli. They would have four children.
- Things Fall Apart (1958) is an account of colonial history from the point of Chinua Achebe view of the colonized rather than the colonizer: The perspective is Afrocentric instead of Eurocentric, something highly unusual in English language literature. The novel explores the philosophical principles of an African community, which is self-governing at the outset of the story.
- The novel was published early in the Nigerian literary renaissance, two years before Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. The timing of the novel’s release helped ensure its success.
- Achebe’s second novel, No Longer at Ease (1960), is set in modern Nigeria in the days immediately before independence from British colonial rule. It reveals the changes to Nigerian society that result from foreign intervention— the extent to which things have fallen apart. The main character’s experiences testify to the oppressive weight of doubt, guilt, and regret that the colonial experience has created.
- Achebe returns to the past in Arrow of God (1964). He evokes a world rich in the complexities of daily domestic, social, political, and religious living further complicated by the now institutionalized religious and political rules that the colonial force had introduced into Igbo society.
- Arrow of God (1964) is a meditation on the nature and uses of power, and on the responsibility of the person who wields it. Although the consequences of the loss of predictable political power at the village level can bring personal tragedy, at the national level the consequences are more widespread and longer lasting.
- Achebe's fourth novel, A Man of the People (1966), which is set in the postcolonial period in an independent African country. The governance of the country is, nominally, in the hands of the people, and it is the quality of the leadership and the response of the people to that leadership that concern Achebe.
- Nigerian Civil War and Politics Publication of A Man of the People coincided almost exactly with the first military coup d’etat in Nigeria, sparked by ethnic tensions between differing populations in the southern and northern parts of Nigeria. The worsening political situation led to the persecution of the Igbo people, which resulted in a series of massacres. Achebe resigned from his job with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation after these acts of violence and returned to his homeland.
- The Eastern Region declared itself an independent state, called Biafra, in 1967, shortly after a thirty-month civil war began. Throughout the war Achebe traveled widely on Biafran affairs to Europe and North America.
- At this time, Achebe produced most of the poems in the volume Beware, Soul Brother, and Other Poems (1971; later revised, enlarged, and republished in the United States as Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems, 1973).
- Thirteen of Achebe’s short stories, collected as Girls at War and Other Stories, were published in 1972. In 1975 Achebe published a volume of fifteen essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day, written between 1962 and 1973, on various literary and political subjects.
- In 1983, in the face of an impending federal election, Chinua Achebe published The Trouble with Nigeria. The final chapter, ‘‘The Example of Aminu Kano,’’ comments on the qualities of the ideal leader for Nigeria in Achebe’s view, and praises Muslim politician Aminu Kano. Kano died before the election, and Achebe was asked to become a presidential candidate. Instead he became the deputy national president, an honorary title. Before the election was held, however, the military intervened, resulting in a coup. It has been suggested that Achebe’s words in part prompted this action.
- In 1986 Achebe was awarded the Nigerian National Merit Award for the second time. In his acceptance speech he acknowledged that literature is central in the quest to achieve the goal of creating a modern Nigeria.
- Achebe confirmed his place as the leading African novelist with the publication of Anthills of the Savannah (1987). One of Achebe’s primary interests in the novel is the way in which Nigeria’s oral tradition, devalued by European colonizers and considered inferior to the tradition of written literature in Europe, is withering.
- Anthills of the Savannah was well received and earned Achebe a nomination for the prestigious Booker Prize.
- Achebe’s next book, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965–1987 (1988), essays and speeches written over a period of twenty-three years, is perceived in many ways to be a logical extension of ideas in Anthills of the Savannah. In this collection, however, he is not addressing the way Africans view themselves, but rather how Africa is viewed by the outside world. The central theme is the destructive impact of racism that is inherent to Western traditional attitudes regarding Africa.
- In 1990, only weeks after attending a celebration for his sixtieth birthday, Achebe was paralyzed in an accident in Nigeria.
- At Achebe’s seventieth birthday celebration at Bard College, Wole Soyinka commented that ‘‘Achebe never hesitates to lay blame for the woes of the African continent squarely where it belongs.’’ In 2007 he was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for fiction.
- Achebe views the English language not as an enemy, ‘‘but as a tool.’’
- Achebe’s use of proverbs also has an artistic aim, as Bernth Lindfors suggests. ‘‘Proverbs can serve as keys to an understanding of his novels because he uses them not merely to add touches of local color but to sound and reiterate themes, to sharpen characterization, to clarify conflict, and to focus on the values of the society.’’
- Achebe’s five novels to date follow some one hundred years of Igbo civilization.
- The artistry displayed in Arrow of God has drawn a great deal of attention, adding to the esteem in which Achebe is held. Charles Miller commented that Achebe’s ‘‘approach to the written word is completely unencumbered with verbiage. He never strives for the exalted phrase, he never once raises his voice; even in the most emotion-charged passages the tone is absolutely unruffled, the control impeccable.’’ He concludes, ‘‘It is a measure of Achebe’s creative gift that he has no need whatever for prose fireworks to light the flame of his intense drama.’’