Chinua Achebe was born on the 16th of November, in 1930 to Isaiah Okafo Achebe, a servant of the church missionary society, and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam. He spent his childhood in Igbo town. The storytelling was part of an ancient tradition in the Igbo society. His mother and sister used to narrate him various stories on Chinua’s request, which helped him develop his interest in literature. His father also had vast literary collection along with with the pictures of colleges hung at their home including, Shakespeare’s literature and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. These influences played a crucial role in his early development toward writing.
Since Chinua belonged to a literate family, his family played a positive role in shaping his literary mind during the early years. First, he attended society’s school, where he began to learn English at the age of eight. At fourteen, he was among the few selected to attend the best government college in Africa. In 1948, he attended University College Ibadan, where he studied medicine, but could not develop an interest in that area. Soon he switched to literature and stunned others with his literary creativity. In 1950, he wrote a literary piece, Polar Undergraduate for University newspaper, Herald, followed by other letters and essays in another magazine, The Bug. After his graduation in 1953, he decided to become a writer and started working in this direction. Also, his teacher, Gilbert Phelps, a literary critic, and novelist, assisted him in his writings.
In 1958, Achebe traveled to Enugu to perform administrative duties. There, he met and developed a relationship with his fellow worker, Christiana Chinwe Okoli. The couple tied the knot on the 10th of September in 1961 in the chapel of the University of Ibadan. Although they had a peaceful marital relationship, they were worried about the prejudiced view of the world towards African people.
Chinua Achebe, the founding father of African writing, met a fatal accident in Nigeria in 1990. This accident left him paralyzed for the rest of his life. Despite the life-changing incident, he did not give up on life and continued to render his services for literature. This towering figure breathed his last at the age of eighty-two on 21st March 2013.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- He was awarded thirty honorary degrees from universities of Canada, Scotland, England, Nigeria, and the United States.
- He became the first living writer to have appeared in the Everyman’s Library Collection.
- He won many awards including, The Man Booker International Prize, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, and the Nigerian National Order of Merit.
Chinua was inspired by the storytelling tradition while growing up, which was combined with traditional events and ceremonies. He started writing as a career at a very young age. His early literary pieces that appeared in his school magazines were the mouthpieces of his literary excellence. He highlighted the collective details of life in Nigeria in contrast with Christian institutions in most of those pieces. Other short stories, including Dead Man’s Path and The Order in Conflict, reflect upon the conflict between modernity and rural traditions. Later, his teacher Gilbert Phelps’s acknowledgment and guide helped him produce his universally acclaimed work, Things Fall Apart, in 1958. Through Things Fall apart, Chinua presented the clash between the white Christian missionaries and native African culture. Later, in his novels, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God and Man of the People, he documented conflict between African tradition and colonial practices. His other notable works include How the Leopard Got His Claws, Morning Yet on Creation Day and Anthills of the Savannah.
Chinua Achebe stands among the most influential figures of world literature. With the help of his unique writing style, he skillfully wove ancient folktales of the Igbo tribe into his stories. He always highlighted cultural values in those tales. His universally acclaimed novel, Things Fall Apart, is one of the best books in the world. Chinua also used many literary devices in his work to make readers understand the themes and messages through characters and stories. To illustrate the values of Igbo’s oral story tradition, he used proverb in his pieces, such as; The Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. His writings were marked with irony, metaphors, and humor, as he presented the impact of colonialism on the Nigerian people. Also, he avoided imitating the trends set for English novels. He would alter the sentence syntax, usage, and idiom, into a distinctly African style, which won applause from critics and his fellow writers. The recurring themes in most of his literary pieces are cultural, identity, justice, discrimination, fate, and free will.
Chinua Achebe’s Famous Works
- Novels: He was an outstanding writer some of his best novels are Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, A Man of People, Arrow of God, and Anthills of the Savannah.
- Other Works: Besides novels, he tried his hands on poetry and shorter fiction. Some of them include “Marriage is a Private Affair”, “Dead man’s Path”, “Civil Peace”, “Another Africa” and “Don’t Let Him Die.”
Chinua Achebe’s Impact on Future Literature
Chinua Achebe, with his unique abilities, left a profound impact on global literature. His intellectual ideas, along with distinct literary qualities, won a special place among his readers, critics, and fellow writers. His impact resonates strongly inside as well as outside Africa. Because of his literary services, Chinua was called the father of modern African writing. His masterpieces provide inspiration and principles for the writers of succeeding generations. He also successfully documented his ideas about equality, power, and injustice in his writings. Even today, writers try to imitate his unique style, considering him as an example for writing prose and poetry.
- We shall all live. We pray for life, children, a good harvest, and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the egret perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break. (Things Fall Apart)
- I am against people reaping where they have not sown. But we have a saying that if you want to eat a toad you should look for a fat and juicy one. (No Longer at Ease)
- You must develop the habit of scepticism, not swallow every piece of superstition you are told by witch-doctors and professors. (Anthills of Savannah)