Friday, January 20, 2017

BIOGRAPHY – Chinua Achebe

Biography Chinua Achebe

Born Albert Chinụalụmọgụ Achebe on 16th November 1930 in Ogidi town (now Anambra), east of Nigeria to the family of Isaiah Okafor and Janet Ilogbunam, Chinua Achebe, as he is often called, is a renowned Nigerian novelist. He is also an educationist, author, and poet.

The fifth of six children, Achebe’s childhood was traditional. His parents were Christian converts of the British representatives' Church Mission Society (CMS). Prior to this, they were deeply accustomed to the Igbo custom and tradition. But young Achebe was groomed in the Christian way, though he became interested in his ancestral ways of life.
He had his first education at St Philips Central School in 1936. Just six years of age, he was recognized as an intelligent and skilled reader. Little wonder that in 1944 he sat for entrance exams and was admitted to the reputable Government College in Onitsha. With the plan to dispose of traditional languages, English was enforced in the British Public Schools. In standard school (now secondary), he was promoted for his brilliant performance in his studies. Because he was studious, he became one of the six outstanding students in the class. As a result, he completed his standard education in 4 years instead of 5.

This was when he started to develop an interest in ‘African’ and American literature. From Booker T Washington's book, Up From Slavery (1901) – an autobiography of the former African slave, a book which proffered solution to how the blacks can be freed from slavery, Achebe realised some realities about life. He also read notable novels such as Gulliver's Travel, David Copperfield, Treasured Island coupled with colonial tales from these books – H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain (1887) and John Buchan's Prester John (1910). From these studies, he detected a high level of reasoning and heroic qualities among the whites. As a result, he detested the degree of misunderstanding and attitude of the blacks, most especially, their crafty nature. Due to his excellent performance in his examination, Achebe bagged a scholarship to study medicine in the first Nigeria University College, now the University of Ibadan in 1994.

However, he changed his mind after he read literature from the European, Joyce Cary, Mr Johnson, which presents Nigeria's culture with contempt and disrespect.

Moved by this the unacceptable portrayal of his motherland, he crossed from medicine to studying English, theology and history, forfeited his scholarship to pay tuition for his new course and settled to commence what he really found delight in.

Suggested: Read the Biography of Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

He started writing while at the University. His first work, which gained publicity was an article titled ‘Polar Undergraduate’ published in the University Herald in 1950. In this article, Achebe portrayed with humour and irony the praise of his classmates' inventiveness and mental power. Since then, Achebe has not stopped writing.

Subsequently, he wrote letters and essays as regards academic issues like freedom and educational systems. He also served as editor of the University Herald publications from 1951 - 1952. Also, he wrote his first short story, ‘In a Village Church’, it narrated how rural Nigeria contended with the new development of Christianity and new faith. He wrote some more, among which were ‘The Old Order in Conflict with the New’, and ‘Dead Men's Path’. These two detailed the struggles of modern traditions and how they affect cultural values.

After his studies at the University in 1953, he graduated with a second class degree. Confused about what to engage in, he returned to Ogidi his home town. There, he was convinced by a friend of his who came on a visit to enrol in teaching profession at Merchants of Lights School, Oba. He agreed, taught for four months before an opportunity to work at the NBS (Nigeria Broadcasting Service) arose in 1954. He wrote scripts for oral broadcast and this aided him to master the skill to write dialogues and conversational tones excellently.

He began work on his first novel during this time. He matched his experiences and vowed to present realistic cultural views, which has long been misinterpreted. He went as far as London to ensure the book was properly revised and edited.

In 1956, he was selected at the Staff school run by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He left Nigeria for England to develop his technical expertise on productions, and he was privileged to check progress on his work too. Finally, his Things Fall Apart was published.

In the award-winning novel, instruments of colonial rule and the struggle of a strict title-holder by the character, Okonkwo, to succumb to the new system brought to the clan in his absence clearly shows Chinua's competence in storytelling and traditional knowledge.

Things Fall Apart skyrocketed Chinua Achebe's writing career as the novel was well received in several countries of the world. It was also translated into various languages, which enhanced its publicity. Other novels which followed were No Longer at Ease (1960), The arrow of God (1964), The Man Of The People (1966).

In 1962, Chinua was promoted at the NBS, and he helped to boost the Voice of Nigeria network. The station had its first broadcast on New Year's Eve of 1962. In 1967, Achebe founded a Press company at Enugu, together with the renowned poet, Christopher Okigbo, who died in the Biafra war, which Chinua also supports. A few years later, Chinua published various children's book and short stories, which includes Chike and the River and How the Leopard Got his Claws (1973). He also collected poetry such as Beware, Soul Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973). In addition, in 1975, he wrote an essay collection titled Morning Yet On Creation Day, and then he returned to the University of Nigeria in 1976 to continue his service. Later in 1982, the prolific writer retired.

In the 1980s, Chinua was busy attending conferences and meetings, giving speeches.
In 1987, Chinua Achebe released another thrilling novel, Anthills of the Savannah, a fictitious novel which tells the tale of a military coup in Africa. Following this was Hopes and Impediments, published in 1988.

1990 opens with a tragic incident of a car accident, which nearly affected Chinua's progress as he was confined to a wheelchair all his remaining years of his life. Yet, he didn't relent, he moved to the United States, waxed stronger and became the Professor of languages and literature at Bard College, New York. He didn't stop to write. Despite his physical challenges this period, Achebe wrote another essay collection titled Home and Exile in 2000.

In 2009, he worked as a professor in African Studies at Brown University as well as David and Marina Fisher University. The same year, he published a short piece with the title – “The Education of a British Protected Child.”  

Chinua Achebe's writing career won him several awards such as the Commonwealth Poetry Price (1982), Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2002), Nigerian National Order of Merit, Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2002), Man Booker International Prize (2007), Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2010), to mention only the most prominent. He also received over thirty Honorary Awards from universities around the world.

China Achebe died on March 21, 2013, after a brief undisclosed illness. But before this time, the great Achebe – an iconic writer the literary world will forever miss – published one of his most controversial book, a memoir titled There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Months after months, rolling into a year the book was published, it generated fierce arguments among Nigerians home and abroad.

Indeed Chinua Achebe was more than a novelist; perhaps he was the conscience of our beloved country Nigeria – a great example of steadfastness in what one thought to be the truth.

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