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A focused and consistent writer, the views expressed by Achebe in the sixties

and seventies, as the nature and boundaries of what is today known as African

literature were being meticulously defined, have remained valid and timeless.

 

 

Books by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart  /  Arrow of God  /  No Longer at Ease   /  A Man of the People  /  Anthills of the Savannah

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Achebe Another Birthday in Exile

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

 

A couple of weeks ago, November 16, to be precise, Professor Chinua Achebe, Africa’s best known writer, the father and rallying point of African literature, and author of the famous classic, Things Fall Apart, turned 75. Were Achebe to be in Nigeria at this time, a day like this would certainly have inspired a big literary event that would have immensely enriched our seriously threatened literature.

But today, Achebe lives in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, very far away from his nation, Nigeria, whose well-being continues to occupy an upper wrung in the famous author’s mind. It is true that Nigeria’s image has benefited immensely from Achebe’s esteemed name, but what it loses in not having the "big Masquerade" standing more frequently on its soil cannot be quantified. 

Since he became confined to a wheelchair following the automobile accident he was involved in on a Nigerian road in 1990, Achebe has lived in the United States, where facilities and amenities that can keep him going in his present state are taken from granted. Although, at no time have I heard Achebe point to this factor as the principal reason for his continued stay in the United States, it is easy to guess, considering that since the unfortunate accident, he has stayed away from his country more than he had ever done. 

The quality medical attention which anyone in Achebe’s condition would require to be active and productive is just non- existent anywhere in Obasanjo’s Nigeria. We must be worried that Nigeria, the self-styled giant of Africa, despite its vast resources, especially, the intimidating oil wealth, is incapable, in this twenty-first century, of attracting and retaining its best brains and original thinkers like Achebe at home, and benefiting from their quality contributions to nation-building. I sincerely believe that were Achebe to be a South African today, he would certainly have no problems living in his country, despite his current state.

No, doubt, Chinua Achebe is Africa’s rare gift to the world, and Nigeria should be glad that this giant emerged from its loins. A focused and consistent writer, the views expressed by Achebe in the sixties and seventies, as the nature and boundaries of what is today known as African literature were being meticulously defined, have remained valid and timeless. They now constitute an invaluable reference material for anyone seeking a better and reliable understanding of Africa, its literature and culture. 

Like I observed somewhere recently, while "Achebe argued at forum after forum that African literature is real, and that that is where he comfortably belongs, his contemporaries were prostrate, cap in hand, before the European "literary Lords" pleading to be accepted as "international" and "universal" writers, vowing and swearing that their Africanness was a mere coincidence, and that they were too big to be confined within the crude fences of African literary aesthetics. 

Of course many got accepted, and some were rewarded handsomely for saying and doing the "right" things, and for intermittently throwing impotent "bomb shells" aimed at discouraging the growth of African literature, but the undeniable fact is that African literature remains their only abiding identity today, and that without the rescuing hand and landing space of African literature, many of them would have since been lost in the dark, bottomless pit of Euro-universalism." (see African Renaissance: London, Vol. 2. No. 4 July/August 2005.)

With his novels, superb lectures and rich essays, Achebe was able to compel the world to alter their entrenched warped views about Africa. After a particularly brilliant and spectacular speaking engagement in Canberra, Australia, in the summer of 1973, Professor Manning Clark, a distinguished Australian historian wrote to Achebe and pleaded: "I hope you come back and speak again here, because we need to lose the blinkers of our past. So come and help the young to grow up without the prejudices of their forefathers..." I find this display of sincerity very touching. 

But the pain there is that while those on the other side of the big divide were showing sufficient remorse for their twisted perceptions of Africa, and letting their "blinkers" fall off, to enable them improve their long-blurred vision, our "big names down here, were, most unfortunately, falling over themselves to "prove" with every strength in them, that like our misguided African American brother, Booker T. Washington, in his book, Up From Slavery (which Ngugi said should have been called, Back To Slavery), they are scared of losing their chains. 

It is significant that Achebe did not allow their distraction to make him lose focus. He is a serious-minded pathfinder, and not an ovation-hungry noise maker. His persistence and unwavering dedication to the cause he had assigned to himself won the day for African literature. Today, African literature is engaging serious attention and study in several universities and colleges around the world, and providing stable platform for those "international" and "universal" spoilsports to assert their relevance in the market place of ideas. But none bothers to think: assuming Achebe had abandoned the struggle because of the great distractions they had constituted at that time? No matter.

Bard College, New York, today enjoys the singular honour of having Achebe on its staff list. It is clear that they just want to be able to say to, "Look, Chinua Achebe is here with us!" I can imagine the positive impact and advancement that would accrue to literary scholarship in Nigeria if Achebe’s name and looming image could be doing for any university in Nigeria today what it is currently doing for Bard College in far-away New York. 

Now I am not denying that there are big literary names in Nigeria, but we must hasten to ask ourselves why those big conferences that made Nigeria the rallying point of African literary discourse in those days, a position it has since gracefully relinquished to its even less-endowed neighbours, suddenly fizzled out after Achebe’s accident and consequent residency in the US? After the famous Eagle on Iroko Symposium in 1990 put together in Nsukka to mark Chinua Achebe’s sixtieth birthday, has Nigeria ever witnessed any other literary harvest of such magnitude?

Achebe saw the need early to form the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) to provide Nigerian writers stable platform for enriching interactions. I can imagine what ANA would have been like if Achebe were to be living in Nigeria today. ANA is Achebe’s baby, and nothing would have been able to sap his interest in the organisation. Were it not for the current incapacitation that has put a long distance between him and ANA, definitely, Nigeria would still have been playing host to big and enriching conferences, which when organized around Achebe, would have been able to attract distinguished writers from several parts of the world.

Yet from his base in New York, Achebe, the patriot and statesman, is very much concerned about the crushing burden under which his country labours. His rejection of a National Honour last year was meant to compel the government to rise to the challenge of responsible leadership and begin to fix Nigeria. Indeed, that country is doomed where a government, instead of seeking answers to its nation's multifarious problems turns around to constitute its excruciating headache. Achebe had placed his love for his country over and above the vulgar reveling he was being invited to partake in Abuja. He had to speak out, because, Nigeria, under Obasanjo’s watch has become "too dangerous for silence."

To further underline his desire to seek realistic solutions to Nigeria’s crushing problems, the Chinua Achebe Foundation has assigned to itself the very timely and patriotic task of engaging some prominent Nigerians in a vibrant interaction aimed at motivating a better appreciation of the countries present afflictions and finding valid answers to them. The interviews which have been widely published in Nigerian newspapers and several internet sites have been immensely popular, and have provided very rewarding illuminations that are rare and peculiar. 

By this project, the Foundation is taking us to the realm of ideas, from where great countries have emerged, and it is hoped that Nigeria, with its solid reputation for repudiating people and programmes that seek its good would derive immense benefit from the Chinua Achebe Interview Project.

It is possible that our rulers in Abuja may think that it is serves their interest better to have the likes of Achebe in foreign lands. What a pity. Indeed, doomed is the nation that leaves its best resources to nourish other nations, while it continues to dry up and wither by the day.

Happy birthday, Prof Achebe.  scruples2006@yahoo.com

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Achebe Links 

Women in Achebe’s World   William Butler Yeats: "The Second Coming" (1921)  Achebe Bio

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Chinua Achebe wins $300,000 Gish prizeBy Philip Nwosu—Monday, September 27, 2010—The author of the epic novel, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe, has emerged winner of the United States Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. The Gish prize, which was established in 1994 by the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust and administered by JPMorgan Chase Bank as trustee, is given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” The prize is worth $300,000. . . . Achebe’s writings examine African politics and chronicle the ways in which African culture and civilization have survived in the post-colonial world. Some of his acclaimed works include A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1988). [The 80-year-old author has founded a number of magazines for African art, fiction and poetry.] Achebe, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a 1990 car accident, is currently Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.SunNewsOnline

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Again, Chinua Achebe Rejects Nigerian Award—“The reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me. I must therefore regretfully decline the offer again,” Achebe said in the letter which he reportedly sent to Nigeria Ambassador to the United States. Achebe had in 2004 rejected offer of national award from the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in protest of the political situation in Nigeria and his native Anambra State then.

The US based writer had in the rejection letter he wrote to the then President noted that: “I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.  I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.

“Forty three years ago, at the first anniversary of Nigeria’s independence I was given the first Nigerian National Trophy for Literature. In 1979, I received two further honours—the Nigerian National Order of Merit and the Order of the Federal Republic—and in 1999 the first National Creativity Award.

“I accepted all these honours fully aware that Nigeria was not perfect; but I had a strong belief that we would outgrow our shortcomings under leaders committed to uniting our diverse peoples.  Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours List.”—PMNewsNigeria

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 20 December 2005

 

 

 

Home   Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye Table   Rose Ure Mezu Index

Related Files: Reading Rose Ure  Mezu   Achebe Preface  Achebe Introduction   Mezu and Achebe: An Inside Knowledge     Achebe Another Birthday in Exile 

Banning Chinua Achebe in Kenya  Women in Achebe's World  Okonkwo's Curse  Achebe's Female Characterisation