Today would have marked the 83rd birthday of Chinua Achebe, the beloved Nigerian author, poet, and academic who passed away earlier this year. Achebe's writing has influenced and inspired generations of readers and writers, from the ground-breaking novel Things Fall Apart, to stirring essay collections like Home and Exile, and his much discussed final work There Was a Country. 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 truth of colonialism helped break through walls of ignorance and promote a new understanding of life in African societies. Achebe's work and life have been the subject of numerous books, but here are ten curious facts about him you may not have know:
- Achebe was raised as a Christian but remained curious about traditional Nigerian faiths.
- Things Fall Apart, which tells the story of a traditional warrior hero who is unable to adapt to changing conditions of the early days of British colonial rule, has been translated into 45 languages and was adapted for the British stage by Biyi Bandele in 1997.
- 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 his boss at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.
- Achebe and Wole Soyinka once fought over girl-related matters. In 1952, girls from St Teresa’s College performed a musical titled Hiawatha at University College (now the University of Ibadan). It appears that some of the men in the audience were not on their best behaviour during the performance. Achebe’s reaction criticising their behaviour, published in the literary magazine called The Bug, which he also edited, launched a light-hearted war of letters that spanned about two years, which Soyinka and another fellow named Sesay participated in. And you thought it was the girls at war.
- While in Nigeria in 1990 to celebrate his sixtieth birthday, Achebe was involved in a road accident which left him paralysed from the waist down.
- Achebe and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o once clashed over the use of language in works by African writers. Achebe wrote his novels primarily in English and defended the use of a "language of colonisers" in African literature, while wa Thiong'o, who now writes primarily in his native Kikuyu, argued in favour of the use of indigenous African languages.
- Achebe was offered the title of Commander of the Federal Republic, a Nigerian national honour, in 2004 and 2011 but rejected the award on both occasions, citing his disappointment at government corruption and brutality.
- During the Nigerian Civil War, Achebe served as an ambassador for the Biafran government.
- Nelson Mandela is among Chinua Achebe’s biggest fans. After Achebe passed away, while recalling what he did to keep himself busy in his 27 years of incarceration in apartheid South Africa, Mandela said: “There was a writer named Chinua Achebe, in whose company the prison walls fell down.”
- Achebe considered the prose of Charles Dickens a major influence on his writing.
Want to learn more about Achebe's life? Check out the article on him in our Discover Nigeria section. Also explore ZODML's collection of Achebe's titles in our Online Catalogue - they're all available to borrow at the Community Library. What didn't you already know about Chinua Achebe? Did we miss out any other cool facts? Let us know in the comments! Image source: AchebeBooks