Chinua Achebe: A World-Class Writer, "Who Champions His People"

By Baker, Essie | The New Crisis, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Chinua Achebe: A World-Class Writer, "Who Champions His People"


Baker, Essie, The New Crisis


The car fell on him, breaking his spine. These eight words create an indelible picture in our minds of the devastatingly horrible, near-fatal accident on March 22, 1990, that critically injured Chinua Achebe, the internationally acclaimed West African novelist and essayist. People were stunned, records Achebe biographer Ezenwa-Ohaeto in Chinua Achebe: A Biography.

From that day in March 1990 to July 1990, Achebe faced life in new, unknown difficult ways as he was moved first from the accident scene at Awka Nigeria, to a clinic there; then after a few days to Enugu, and finally to Paddocks Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England. Then he faced a final reality: He-Albert Chinualumogu Achebe-was confined to a wheelchair, permanently: Yet, he held hope, lacked bitterness, because he was thankful for Ikechukwu, his son, and the driver of the car had not been seriously injured.

Of the accident, he says simply: "I was hurt. But my thought was, `Ok, that's it. Trouble happens.'

By September 1990, Achebe was beginning to resume his life as husband, father, son, brother, educator, writer. He was healing, and he was writing again-on "a whole range of topics in various stages of completion," he says.

A significant part of Achebe's life at this time was Bard College, Annandale, N. Y., which appointed him Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Literature. Sensitive to his special needs, Bard College offered several privileges to Achebe, even before the general public was cognizant of the July 26, 1990, passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the Bush administration. Among other accommodations, Bard College constructed a special house for Achebe and made available an appropriately equipped vehicle. Achebe has done the rest.

Things Fall Apart (1958); .No Longer at Ease (1960 sequel to the first novel); Arrow of God (1964, winner of the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award, Britain); A Man of the People (1966); and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), a finalist for the Booker Prize, England, are Achebe's five published novels, all masterpieces. Originally, William Heinemann, London, published each book. Achebe is also the author of many short stories, essays, and children's stories (see books); and the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Worldwide, the consensus is that he is past due the Nobel Prize in literature.

Achebe Chinualumogu, uses a shortened version of as his middle name. All can appreciate its meaning: "May God fight on my behalf. And so far, God has."

Things Fall Apart, Achebe's first published novel, had an initial first printing of 2000 hardbound copies. Since then, the title has sold more than 3 million copies, with over 8 million in print. A timeless modern classic, the novel has been translated in 50 languages, including French, Hebrew, and Spanish. In English, it is the most widely read West African novel.

"Around '51, '52," says Achebe in Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe, "I was quite certain I was going to try my hand at writing, and one of the things that set me thinking was Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson which was praised so much [Time called it `the best novel ever written about Africa ], and it was clear to me that it was a most superficial picture of not only the country but even of the Nigerian character, and so I thought if this was famous, then perhaps someone ought to try and look at this from inside." As Achebe reasoned, the story "we had to tell could not be told for us by anyone else." Things Fall Apart and all Achebe's subsequent writings reflect this belief, this sense of responsibility he has to his Ibo people, and to all of Africa. Achebe writes about truth, which he started learning early in his eastern Nigerian town of Ogidi. Colonialism, cultural disruptions, uprisings, and wars-truths in his country and continent-are significantly and historically woven into what he writes. But also he shares with readers bonds of love, unity, and strife in families and with friends who are not fault free. …

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