AFRICANGLOBE – The Nigerian novelist and poet Chinua Achebe, who first made his mark with 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, has died aged 82 .
News reports from Nigeria this morning suggest he died at a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts of an undisclosed ailment.
Chinua Achebe’s agent and his publisher confirmed his death this morning.
Simon Winder, publishing director at Penguin, described him as “an utterly remarkable man” and “the greatest of African writers”, adding “we are all desolate to hear of his death.”
A statement released by Achebe’s agent and family confirmed his death “following a brief illness.”
It continued: “One of the great literary voices of his time, he was also a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him. Professor Achebe’s family requests privacy at this time.”
A spokesman for the Anambra state governor Peter Obi told reporters that Nigeria was in mourning for its “illustrious son”.
Sources quoted in the Premium Times said he had been unwell for some time and was hospitalised earlier this week.
Right up until his death Chinua Achebe worked as Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and was the David and Marianna University Professor.
Attempts to contact Brown University for comment have not been successful.
Chinua Achebe is known as the “father of modern African literature”, and made his name writing about the history of Nigeria.
Things Fall Apart, set amid 1890s Nigeria and the influx of Christian missionaries, is renowned the world over, has been translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies.
The novel takes its title from WB Yeats’s 1919 poem “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”
In 2007 Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize for his “overall contribution to fiction on the world stage”.
Nelson Mandela called him “the writer in whose company the prison walls came down”, and credited him as the author who “brought Africa to the rest of the world”
Achebe’s other novels include Arrow of God (1964); A Man of the People(1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). He has also published four children’s books (including Chike and the River and How the Leopard Got His Claws), short stories and poetry in English and Igbo.
His 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is still available in paperback from Penguin Classics. In it, he says that “Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist” and points out that there are only six words spoken by Africans in the whole of Heart of Darkness.
Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Anambra State, on November 16, 1930. At the age of 12 he moved several kilometres away from his family to Nekede to attend the Central School there before attending Government College Umuahia for his secondary school education.
He was one of the first students to attend the University College, now University of Ibadan in 1948. Having first opted to study medicine he switched to English, history and theology after his first year.
After winning his degree Achebe taught at Ibadan before joining the Nigeria Broadcasting Service in 1954.
He met his wife Christie Okoli while in Lagos and the couple married in 1961 going on to have four children.
During the Nigeria Civil War Achebe joined the Biafran Government as an ambassador. He wrote about his experiences in his last book, There Was A Country.
Chinua Achebe had been living in America since 1990 following injuries from a car crash.
David Lammy wrote on Twitter this morning: “RIP Chinua Achebe. Wonderful writer and campaigner who said “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”
By Matilda Battersby