Chinua Achebe, celebrated Nigerian novelist, dies
This 2010 photo provided by Brown University shows Chinua Achebe on campus in Providence, R.I. Achebe, an internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident, has died at age 82. He joined Brown University in 2009 as a professor of languages and literature. (AP Photo/Brown University, Mike Cohea)
NEW YORK (AP) — The opening sentence was as simple, declarative and revolutionary as a line out of Hemingway:
"Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond," Chinua Achebe wrote in "Things Fall Apart."
Africans, the Nigerian author announced more than 50 years ago, had their own history, their own celebrities and reputations. Centuries of being defined by the West were about to end, a transformation led by Achebe, who continued for decades to rewrite and reclaim the history of his native country.
Achebe, the internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident, died at age 82 in Boston on Thursday after a brief illness. He lived through and helped define traumatic change in Nigeria, from independence to dictatorship to the disastrous war between Nigeria and the breakaway country of Biafra in the late 1960s. He knew both the prestige of serving on government commissions and the fear of being declared an enemy of the state. He spent much of his adult life in the United States but never stopped calling for democracy in Nigeria or resisting literary honors from a government he refused to accept.
This undated photo provided by Brown University shows Chinua Achebe at his home in Warwick, R.I. Achebe, an internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident, has died at age 82. Achebe's 1958 novel, "Things Fall Apart," is widely regarded as the first major work of modern African fiction and inspired others to tell the continent's story through the eyes of those who lived there. He joined Brown University in 2009 as a professor of languages and literature. (AP Photo/Brown University, Mike Cohea)
In traffic today in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, hawkers sell pirated copies of his recent memoir about the Biafra war, "There Was a Country."
"What has consistently escaped most Nigerians in this entire travesty is the fact that mediocrity destroys the very fabric of a country as surely as a war — ushering in all sorts of banality, ineptitude, corruption and debauchery," wrote Achebe, whose death was confirmed by Brown University, where he taught.
His eminence worldwide was rivaled only by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and a handful of others. Achebe was a moral and literary model for countless Africans and a profound influence on such American-based writers as Ha Jin, Junot Diaz and Morrison, who once called Achebe's work an "education" for her and "liberating in a way nothing had been before."
His public life began in his mid-20s, when Nigeria was still under British rule. He was a resident of London when he completed his handwritten manuscript for "Things Fall Apart," a short novel about a Nigerian tribesman's downfall at the hands of British colonialists.
Turned down by several publishers, the book was finally accepted by Heinemann and released in 1958 with a first printing of 2,000. Its initial review in The New York Times ran less than 500 words, but the novel soon became among the most important books of the 20th century, a universally acknowledged starting point for postcolonial, indigenous African fiction, the prophetic union of British letters and African oral culture.