Chinua Achebe: Some reflections

Posted by: June Cohen

Photo: Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

The world lost one of its literary giants today. Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe has died at the age 82.

For Nigerians, Achebe was a national treasure. He was the first African writer to attract international acclaim, and an outspoken leader with far-reaching influence on both politics and culture. Emeka Okafor, who produced the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania 5 years ago and is Achebe’s relative, says, “He was in many ways the conscience of Nigeria. Unflinching in his critiques, a monumental figure.”

For me, Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (1958) was my first real glimpse at Africa beyond the negative headlines (famine, disease, war) and the nature documentaries. His story was a stark portrayal of the devastating impact of colonization on traditional African societies, told through the lens of a single individual. It changed the way I think, helping me see the much bigger picture behind the headlines from Africa (and elsewhere), and understand the true impact of colonization on the continent.

The young Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie captures this notion beautifully in her TED Talk, given almost exactly 50 years later. As she says, to understand Africa today, you have to begin the story earlier.

A particularly moving line in this talk: “Because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye … I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.”

Comments (12)

  • Pingback: Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe « Colours And Glitters And All Things Shiny!

  • Pingback: Chinua Achebe: Celebrated Nigerian Author Dies at 82 | Mirth and Motivation

  • Elizabeth Obih-Frank commented on Apr 6 2013

    Chinua Achebe was a huge part of my childhood and a pivotal influence on my writing life. His death took my breath away and silenced me for a while. He will be sorely missed.

  • commented on Apr 4 2013

    To this day, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall apart remains one of my favourite books. Thank you for sharing.

  • Pingback: Must things fall apart? — 

  • commented on Mar 24 2013

    Once again thanks to the ignorance or arrogance of South African education system, I’m floored. I’ve never heard of this author until today. We wasted so much time and effort in my school education on American and European history and was taught nothing about the rest of the African continent. Thank you Emeka for bringing this to my attention.

    • Morton Bast commented on Mar 24 2013

      Thank you so much for sharing these realizations. Wonderful to think how it’s not too late for any of us to fill the holes in our education — wishing you much enjoyment discovering Achebe’s work!

  • commented on Mar 23 2013

    A giant is gone but his words live on.
    Great men leave great legacies. Chinua Achebe let us reallize that neither skin colour nor ethnicity can prevent the light that is in anyone from shining.
    Your origins and circumstances don’t determine where you will end, they are stepping stones to climb upon. Everyone who keeps hope alive, fans faith to flames and collaborates with love will definitely make a huge difference.
    Rest in perfect peace, Chinua Achebe!

  • Robert Andrews commented on Mar 22 2013

    Great speech. If you really think about it, the media not only control what we think, it controls what we think about. And this is a classic case of how One country’s or society’s view on another people can negatively affect billions of people’s perception of them all over the world; especially in today’s society where a story can be transmitted instantaneously all over the world. It is more important now to tell someone’s story from more than one point of view and to the story correctly.

  • Pingback: Chinua Achebe, 1931-2013 | FeudArt

  • Chipo Muwowo commented on Mar 22 2013

    Reblogged this on MasukuOnMyMind..

  • commented on Mar 22 2013

    Reblogged this on The Riot Project.