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updated: 3/22/2013 3:26 PM

Achebe, 82, inspired generations of Nigerian writers

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  • Chinua Achebe, left, with his wife Christie Achebe on campus in Providence, R.I.

      Chinua Achebe, left, with his wife Christie Achebe on campus in Providence, R.I.
    Associated Press/2010

 
Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was just 10 years old when she first read Chinua Achebe's groundbreaking novel "Things Fall Apart."

She devoured the rich use of Igbo proverbs in his book, which forever changed Africa's portrayal in literature.

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That inspiration carried over into the creation of a pivotal character in her debut work, "I Do Not Come to You by Chance," which pulls readers into the dark and greedy world of Nigerian Internet scam artists.

"Like many contemporary Nigerian writers, I grew up on a literary diet that comprised a huge dose of Achebe's works," she said. "My parents were so proud of his accomplishments, and quoted the Igbo proverbs in his books almost as frequently as they quoted Shakespeare."

Achebe's death at the age of 82 was announced Friday by his publisher. His works inspired countless writers around the world, though the literary style of "Things Fall Apart," first published in 1958, particularly transformed the way novelists wrote about Africa.

In breaking with the Eurocentric lens of viewing the continent through the eyes of outsiders, Achebe took readers to a place full of complex characters who told their stories in their own words and style.

Achebe once wrote that a major goal "was to challenge stereotypes, myths, and the image of ourselves and our continent."

He resisted the idea that he was the father of modern African literature, recalling a rich and ancient tradition of storytelling on the continent. Still, his influence on younger writers of the late 20th and early 21st century, particularly those from his homeland, was undeniable.

"Achebe's influence has been completely seminal and inspirational, and there are writers that have been called the School of Achebe who have imitated his style," said Chukwuma Azuonye, professor of African and African Diaspora Literatures at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

A newer crop of successful novelists with ties to Nigeria has broken away from Achebe's mode, Azuonye said, developing their own modernist style of writing that focuses on clashes of cultures and other issues facing Nigerians abroad.

"Again they are working under the influence of Achebe in the sense that Achebe is the role model for what they are doing," he added.

Nigerian novelist Lola Shoneyin, whose works include "The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives," says Achebe's fiction gives her something new each time she reads his work.

"In the last five decades, just about every post-colonial African author, one way or another, has been engaged in a creative call-and-response with Chinua Achebe," she said.

Igoni Barrett, the author of a collection of stories called "From Caves of Rotten Teeth," said Achebe had achieved a "saintly status among Nigerian writers" through his pioneering involvement in the African Writers Series.

"Chinua Achebe was an inspiration to me not only for his singular talent and his dedication to truth in art and life, but also because he had the fortitude to overcome the countless disappointments of the Nigerian state," he said.

One of Senegal's best-known novelists, 66-year-old Boubacar Boris Diop, was in high school when he read "Things Fall Apart." He says that in it, he found "the real Africa."

"I systematically advise young authors to read Chinua Achebe. I've often bought copies of `Things Fall Apart' and offered them to young writers. It's well written -- in the sense that it's not written at all. In it, you won't find any great lyrical phrases. That's the great force of this book. It's written in simple language," said Diop. "He wrote about a continent that is far from perfect, but which at the same time has things within it that fill you with wonder."

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