Chinua Achebe's seminal novel "Things Fall Apart" has become a
worldwide classroom staple since it was published in 1958. But
winning the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for fiction
underscores Mr. Achebe's role as a trailblazer for a generation of
Nigerian writers who are also gaining global recognition.
"Chinua Achebe's early work made him the father of modern African
literature as an integral part of world literature," said novelist
Nadine Gordimer, one of the three judges for the award, in an
announcement in London on Wednesday.
The award is the second major international accolade for a
Nigerian author this month. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie took the Orange
Prize for Fiction, a top international award for women writers
published in English, for her second novel, "Half of a Yellow Sun."
The two awards showcase Nigeria - a nation often associated with
violence, corruption, and a history of ruthless military dictators -
for its mammoth contribution to the English-language literature.
Achebe's peer, Wole Soyinka, was the first African to be honored
with a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. Ben Okri won the Booker
Prize for Fiction for "The Famished Road" in 1991.
Indeed, Nigerian writers were central to the success of the
Heinemann African Writer's series, launched in 1962, which
introduced writers from across Africa. Edited for its first 10 years
by Nigeria's Achebe, now 76, Heinemann brought Ngugi wa Thiong'o
from Kenya and Nadine Gordimer from South Africa - and many more -
to the attention of the international literary world.
A literary legacy despite a colonial history
A major component of Achebe's literary achievement is his
celebration of Nigeria's pre-colonial history and his examination of
colonialism's effects on indigenous African cultures. Taken as a
whole, critics say, Achebe's literary oeuvre, comprised of novels,
poems, essays, and literary criticism, takes a critical stance
against colonial influence.
"I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I
set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past -
with all its imperfections - was not one long night of savagery from
which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them,"
Achebe wrote in his 1965 essay "The Novelist as Teacher."
Nigeria's literary prominence is particularly remarkable given
that, until 19th century missionaries arrived with their Bible and
pens, there were no indigenous written languages. Despite the lack
of a written tradition, Nigeria's pre-colonial societies - like the
Igbo Achebe chronicled in "Things Fall Apart" - cultivated a rich
tradition of oral storytelling that predates the written word. …