The Iroko has fallen
The Iroko has fallen; the legend has defied flesh to heed the calling of God, the creator.
He was 82, having been born on November 16, 1930, and had been in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts in recent days. The David and Mariana Fisher Professor of Literature at Brown University, died on the 21st of March (thursday) as he had been sick for some time.
Born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in the Igbo village of Ogidi to Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam, Professor Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. In his early years, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies in the University of Ibadan. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos. He is best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958), which sold more than 12 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages making it the most widely read book in modern African literature. His last book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, is still making waves.
In the 1960s (a creatively fertile period for Achebe) He wrote the novels No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) and A Man of the People (1966), all of which address the issue of the cultural clash between native African culture and the traditional white culture of missionaries and the colonial government in place in Nigeria.. Anthills of the Savannah  took on a similar theme. Achebe writes his novels in English and has defended the use of English, a “language of colonisers”, in African literature.
In 1967, Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo, a renowned poet, cofounded a publishing company, the Citadel Press, which they intended to run as an outlet for a new kind of African-oriented children’s books. Okigbo was soon killed, however, in the Nigerian civil war. Two years later, Achebe toured the United States with Gabriel Okara and Cyprian Ekwensi, fellow writers, giving lectures at various universities. The 1960s also marked Achebe’s wedding to Christie Chinwe Okoli in 1961, and they went on to have four children, two daughters, two sons and now, six grandchildren.
When he returned to Nigeria from the United States, Achebe became a research fellow and later a professor of English (1976–1981) at the University of Nigeria. During this time he also served as director of two Nigerian publishing houses, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd.
In the 1970s, Achebe published several collections of short stories and a children’s book, How the Leopard Got His Claws (1973). Also coming out at this time were Beware, Soul-Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973), both poetry collections, and Achebe’s first book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975). While back in the United States in 1975, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Achebe gave a lecture called An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” in which Achebe asserted that Joseph Conrad as “a bloody racist” dehumanizes Africans. The work referred to Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist,” and, when published in essay form, it went on to become a seminal postcolonial African work.
Achebe’s novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory.
Professor Achebe is also known for his contribution in the Biafran war and independence and acted as ambassador for the people of the new nation. He involved himself in political parties when the Nigerian government retook the region in 1970, but soon resigned due to frustration over the corruption and elitism he witnessed. He lived in the United States for several years in the 1970s, and returned to the U.S. in 1990 after a car accident left him partially disabled.
Back in Nigeria, Achebe set to work revising and editing his novel (now titled Things Fall Apart, after a line in the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats). He cut away the second and third sections of the book, leaving only the story of a yam farmer named Okonkwo who lives during the colonization of Nigeria. He added sections, improved various chapters, and restructured the prose. By 1957, he had sculpted it to his liking, and took advantage of an advertisement offering a typing service. He sent his only copy of his handwritten manuscript (along with the ₤22 fee) to the London Company. After he waited several months without receiving any communication from the typing service, Achebe began to worry. His boss at the NBS, Angela Beattie, was going to London for her annual leave; he asked her to visit the company. She did, and angrily demanded to know why it was lying ignored in the corner of the office. The company quickly sent a typed copy to Achebe. Beattie’s intervention was crucial for his ability to continue as a writer. Had the novel been lost, he later said, “I would have been so discouraged that I would probably have given up altogether.”
In 1958, Achebe sent his novel to the agent recommended by Gilbert Phelps in London. It was sent to several publishing houses; some rejected it immediately, claiming that fiction from African writers had no market potential. Finally it reached the office of Heinemann, where executives hesitated until an educational adviser, Donald MacRae – just back in England after a trip through West Africa read the book and forced the company’s hand with his succinct report: “This is the best novel I have read since the war”.Things Fall Apart has become one of the most important books in African literature.
In 1960, while they were still dating, Achebe dedicated to Christie Okoli his second novel, No Longer at Ease, about a civil servant who is embroiled in the corruption of Lagos. Later that year, Achebe was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship for six months of travel, which he called “the first important perk of my writing career”
Achebe set out for a tour of East Africa. One month after Nigeria achieved its independence, he travelled to Kenya, where he was required to complete an immigration form by checking a box indicating his ethnicity: European, Asiatic, Arab, or Other. Shocked and dismayed at being forced into an “Other” identity, he found the situation “almost funny” and took an extra form as a souvenir. Continuing to Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now united in Tanzania), he was frustrated by the paternalistic attitude he observed among non-African hotel clerks and social elites. In Northern Rhodesia (now called Zambia), Achebe found himself sitting in a whites-only section of a bus to Victoria Falls. Interrogated by the ticket taker as to why he was sitting in the front, he replied, “If you must know I come from Nigeria, and there we sit where we like in the bus.” Upon reaching the waterfall, he was cheered by the black travelers from the bus, but he was saddened by their being unable to resist the policy of segregation at the time.
Achebe’s third book, Arrow of God, was published in 1964. The idea for the novel came in 1959, when Achebe heard the story of a Chief Priest being imprisoned by a District Officer. He drew further inspiration a year later when he viewed a collection of Igbo objects excavated from the area by archaeologist Thurstan Shaw; Achebe was startled by the cultural sophistication of the artifacts. When an acquaintance showed him a series of papers from colonial officers (not unlike the fictional Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger referenced at the end of Things Fall Apart), Achebe combined these strands of history and began work on Arrow of God in earnest. Like Achebe’s previous works, Arrow was roundly praised by critics. A revised edition was published in 1974 to correct what Achebe called “certain structural weaknesses”.
Professor Chinua Achebe would be highly missed; his impeccable and selfless spirit will be highly imbibed. I commiserate with his family and ask that God grants them the fortitude to bear the great loss. I am personally glad he tread this homeland, Nigeria and this continent, Africa. RIP Iroko, RIP Chinua Achebe, God loves you more!