Bestselling Nigerian novelist, essayist, poet and professor Chinua Achebe is dead.
Achebe died on Thursday at a hospital in Boston following a prolonged illness. He was 82. Achebe’s 1958 debut novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ told the story of British colonialism from an African perspective and went on to sell 11 million copies worldwide. It has been translated into over 50 languages and still remains one of the most popular and important pieces of literature to ever emerge from Africa.
Achebe was an African literary favorite. Former South African President Nelson Mandela was a fan, once commenting that to read Achebe’s work was enough “to bring down prison walls.”
Achebe was a fierce critic of successive Nigerian governments and frequently lamented the failure of the country’s leadership. In 1983, he published the immensely popular pamphlet, “The Trouble With Nigeria” which lashed out at Nigeria’s pervasive corruption and labelled the West African nation as “dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.” He went further: “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility,” – words which unfortunately remain true today.
But while Achebe openly despised Nigeria’s corrupt and inept leaders, they still courted him to no end. In 2004, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo offered him the prestigious honour of ‘Commander of the Federal Republic.’ Achebe turned down the honor. Explaining his reason for rejecting the award, Achebe said in a letter to Obasanjo, “Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours List.”
In 2011, current Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also offered him a similar National honor. Achebe turned it down again, explaining that “the reasons for rejecting the offer when it was first made have not been addressed let alone solved.”
Since 1990, Achebe had been living in the U.S. following an auto accident which left him a paraplegic. He joined Brown University in September 2009 as a professor of Africana Studies. He held the position until his death on Thursday.
In tribute, Brown University President Christina Paxson said, “The colloquia he organized at Brown attracted a grand array of guests and effectively demonstrated how the humanities can build understanding by drawing from and encouraging a variety of perspectives. We were honored to have him among us.”
According to the U.K’s Guardian, Simon Winder, publishing director at Penguin, Achebe’s publisher, called him an “utterly remarkable man.”
“Chinua Achebe is the greatest of African writers and we are all desolate to hear of his death,” he said.
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