Chinua Achebe is, without question, the single author who has been most responsible for the rise of the African novel as a global cultural phenomenon in the past half century. Indeed, as Professor Simon Gikandi notes in his foreword to this volume, there is a very real sense in which Achebe can be said to have invented African literature, at least insofar as it exists as an internationally recognized cultural institution. Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), is generally thought of as the first real novel to have been produced by an African writer in the English language. The impressive achievement of that book—plus its subsequent critical and commercial success—blazed a trail followed by numerous other African novelists. With Achebe in the lead, these novelists have been able, within the seemingly Western genre of the novel and generally in Western languages (especially English), to find an eloquent and effective mode for the expression of the particular social, historical, and cultural situation of modern Africa. Achebe himself was among those authors who built upon the impressive achievement of Things Fall Apart, producing a sequence of powerful novels that together tell the story of the history of modern Nigeria from the traumatic moment of first colonization to the era of postcolonial political turmoil. Achebe's body of work has received considerable attention from Western critics, and in this sense he has also led the way for other African novelists. But Achebe has also been an important and outspoken critic in his own right, courageously condemning the colonialist biases of canonical Western classics such as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, while at the same time explaining to Western audiences the crucial factors that both link the African novel to its Western predecessors and identify the African novel as an altogether different cultural phenomenon.
Given the extensive nature of Achebe's work as a novelist, poet, short-story writer, critic, political commentator, and international ambassador for Africa and African culture, it should perhaps come as no surprise that there is now a vast body of information available about him and his work. This volume represents an attempt to pull much of that information together in a single place, providing a convenient starting point at which those interested in Achebe and his work can find a substantial amount of information of various kinds, while also learning where to go to seek additional material. In this sense, the volume is intended to be accessible to those with little or no knowledge