Chinua Achebe (pictured) — perhaps the most-influential voice in the history of African literature — died after a short illness, robbing the world of a literary elder who brought the trials and tribulations of Nigeria to the world’s consciousness for the last half century.
Tributes for the 82-year-old Achebe, a scholar, poet, and social critic, have been pouring in from around the world since word of his death in Boston broke. But the most-concise and brilliant words ever spoken about Achebe came from former South African President Nelson Mandela who said Achebe “brought Africa to the rest of the world.” Here NewsOne offers 10 facts you likely didn’t know about the author.
1) His first novel, the groundbreaking “Things Fall Apart” (1958, pictured below)), is the most-widely read book in African literature and has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.
2) “Things Fall Apart” almost never came to light. After Achebe finished his manuscript, he sent it to a London typing service, where it was misplaced and lost for months. It was finally recovered by an adviser at his publisher’s office.
3) Despite the instant acclaim “Things Fall Apart” received, some British literary critics actually derided the book as romanticizing African society in the days before British colonization.
4) Achebe received more than 30 honorary degrees from esteemed universities, including Harvard and Dartmouth.
5) Achebe was a radio producer at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corp. in his youth.
6) The popularity of “Heart of Darkness” author Joseph Conrad suffered, after Achebe criticized his depiction of Africans as racist. “Darkness” is a story about a White man transporting ivory down the Congo River.
7) During the Nigeria Civil War, Achebe joined the Biafra Government as an ambassador.
8) Citing bitter disappointment with government corruption and brutality, Achebe rejected the Nigerian government’s attempt to name him a Commander of the Federal Republic – a national honor – twice in 2004 and in 2011.
9) Mandela was among Achebe’s biggest fans, hailing the writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”
10) Achebe has credited the prose of author Charles Dickens as a major influence in his writing.
With the advent of global communications, it might be difficult for those who don’t remember a world without the Internet to grasp the influence Achebe and “Things Fall Apart” had on the literary world 50 years ago.
At a time when Africa was still considered a mysterious, savage “dark continent” to many in the western world, Achebe’s vivid storytelling about the brutality of colonialism helped break through walls of ignorance.
Achebe’s contribution to the literary world cannot be overstated.