Chinua Achebe's Biography and Style



Chinua Achebe's Biography:

    Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born the son of Isaiah Okafo, a evangelical Christian churchman, and Janet N. Achebe November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria. Although both his parents were Christians, they heavily inundated him with traditional Ibo values.  He married Christie Chinwe Okoli, September 10, 1961, and now has four children: Chinelo, Ikechukwu, Chidi, and Nwando. He attended Government College in Umuahia from 1944 to 1947 and University College in Ibadan from 1948 to 1953. He then received a his B.A. from London University in 1953. He studied broadcasting at the British Broadcasting Corp. in London in 1956, and was later the director of External Broadcasting for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service. Achebe has received numerous honors, such as Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and well over 20 (!) honorary doctorates. He is also recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, signifying high intellectual achievement that has shaped the culture of Nigeria.
    From 1972 - 1976 and from 1897-1988 he was Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and also at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. He later tought at Bard College.
    Currently, he lives with his family in Annandale, New York. A serious car accident left his paralyzed from the waist down.

Other Works by Chinua Achebe:

Things Fall Apart, 1958
No Longer at Ease, 1960
The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories, 1962
Arrow of God, 1964
A Man of the People, 1966
Chike and the River, 1966
Beware, Soul-Brother, and Other Poems, 1971
How the Leopard Got His Claws (with John Iroaganachi), 1972
Girls at War, 1973
Christmas at Biafra, and Other Poems, 1973
Morning Yet on Creation Day, 1975
The Flute, 1975
The Drum, 1978
Don't Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christofer Okigbo (editor with Dubem Okafor), 1978
Aka Weta: An Anthology of Igbo Poetry (co-editor), 1982
The Trouble With Nigeria, 1984
African Short Stories, 1984
Anthills of the Savannah, 1988
Hopes and Impediments, 1988

    Things Fall Apart was his first and foremost novel, a deafening yet balanced description of the cultural clast between native African culture and traditional white culture. The novel describes what happened to Igbo society in the late 1800s, when European missionaries and colonizers laid claim to Nigeria. The book has subsequently became required reading in many high schools and universities across the world.

Achebe's later novels, including No Longer At Ease (1960), A Man of the People (1996), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), describe the struggles of Africans to free themselves from European political influences.

Achebe is also a political activist in Nigeria. His children's book, "How the Leopard Got His Claws" (1972) and the collection of poetry, "Christmas in Biafra" (1973) are about internal struggles in Nigeria itself.

Achebe's Style:

    Achebe's style is one of the most well regarded styles of current authors, nearly revolutionary in impact. Although it may have a defamiliarizing effect upon some readers because of its stark simplicity, it is actually full of depth and complexity despite appearances. Very realistic and brief, it conveys as close as possible in English the language also spoken by the Ibo. By sprinkling the language with proverbs and other cultural references, Achebe slowly and naturally introduces the reader to Ibo culture. Achebe's honest and stunning style make him the ideal spokesman for African Literature, or as little of it as the West can understand.

[based upon Contemporary Authors by Melissa Culrose]

     Since the 1950's, Nigeria has witnessed "the flourishing of a new literature which has drawn sustenance from both traditional oral literature and from the present and rapidly changing society," writes Margaret Laurence in her book Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists. Thirty years ago Chinua Achebe was one of the founders of this new literature, and over the years many critics have come to consider him the finest of the Nigerian novelists. His achievement, however, has not been limited to his continent. He is considered by many to be one of the best novelists now writing in the English language.

 Unlike some African writers struggling for acceptance among contemporary English language novelists, Achebe has been able to avoid imitating the trends in English literature. Rejecting the European notion "that art should be accountable to no one, and [needs] to justify itself to nobody," as he puts it in his book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe has embraced instead the idea at the heart of the African oral tradition: that "art is, and always was, at the service of man. Our ancestors created their myths and told their stories for a human purpose." For this reason, Achebe believes that "any good story, any good novel, should have a message, should have a purpose."

 Achebe's feel for the African context has influenced his aesthetic of the novel as well as the technical aspects of his work. As Bruce King comments in Introduction to Nigerian Literature: "Achebe was the first Nigerian writer to successfully transmute the conventions of the novel, a European art form, into African literature." In an Achebe novel, King notes, "European character study is subordinated to the portrayal of communal life; European economy of form is replaced by an aesthetic appropriate to the rhythms of traditional tribal life."
 

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