Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Achebe was one of the first African writers to achieve international literary success. His use of a mixture of simple English and Ibo phrases reflected a uniquely African heritage and inspired many other African writers to lend their voices to different types of Western literature.
Chinualomagu (Albert) Achebe was born on November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, Nigeria, a large Ibo village in the rainforest lands not far from the banks of the Niger River. He was the second youngest of six children born to Isaiah Achebe, a teacher-catechist for the Church Missionary Society and one of the first people of his region to convert to Christianity. Achebe’s family was distinguished, as his grandfather had acquired three of the four possible titles in the village. Although as a boy he was educated as a Christian, learning to admire all things European and to reject things that were African, Achebe was still able to find beauty in traditional African culture. Since his father did not sever connections with his non-Christian relatives, Achebe established a relationship with his people’s traditional world.
Achebe began his education in the Christian mission school of his birth-place. He then won a scholarship to Government College Umahia and in 1948 was chosen to be one of the first students to study at University College, Ibadan (later the University of Ibadan). While attending university, Achebe rejected his given English name (Albert) and began to use the African Chinualomagu (shortened to Chinua), which implies the meaning “God will fight for me.” He also dropped his planned study of medicine and instead chose to pursue a degree in literature, receiving his B.A. in 1953. At this time, Achebe began to write short stories and essays, some of which centered on the conflict between Christian and traditional African culture, a subject that would become the focal point for much of his later works. After graduation, Achebe taught secondary school for less than a year before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Company as “talks producer” in 1954.
In his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), Achebe focused on the Nigerian experience of European colonialism and dominance, developing his major themes from an African viewpoint and portraying the many aspects of the communal life of the Ibo people of Umuafia in the late nineteenth century at both the societal and individual levels. The novel is short, utilizing a close-knit style that creates an effective picture of the clash between the Ibo and European cultures at a time when white missionaries and officials were first penetrating Eastern Nigeria. The story focuses on two closely intertwined tragedies—the public tragedy of the Ibo culture as it is eclipsed by the European culture and the individual tragedy of Okonkwo, an important man of Umuafia who sees his traditional world changing and collapsing and is powerless to stop it. Things Fall Apart was met with wide critical acclaim and has since been translated into forty-five languages.
Achebe’s second novel, No Longer at Ease, was published in 1960. As in his first novel, Achebe took the novel’s title from a poem by T. S. Eliot. This work examines African society in the era of independence and continues the saga of the Okonkwo family with Ox’s grandson Obi, an educated Christian who has left his village for a position as a civil servant in urban Lagos, Nigeria. The story deals with the tragedy of a new generation of Nigerians who, although educated and Westernized, are nevertheless caught between the opposing cultures of traditional Africa and urban Lagos.
In 1961, Achebe was appointed Director of External Broadcasting for Nigeria. This position required that Achebe travel to Great Britain as well as other parts of the world. During this time, a collection of Achebe’s short stories entitled The Sacrificial Egg and Other Short Stories (1962) was published. Two years later, Achebe completed Arrow of God (1964). In this, his third novel, Achebe once again painted a picture of cultures in collision, and once again his novel attracted much attention, which only added to the high esteem in which he was already held.
A Man of the People, which would be Achebe’s last novel for more than two decades, was published in 1966. With this...
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Achebe was born in 1930 in the village of Ogidi in eastern Nigeria. His father worked for the Church Missionary Society, and his early education was through the society's school. At the age of eight, Achebe began to learn English. When he was fourteen, he was one of a few boys selected to attend the government college at Umuahia, which was one of the best schools in west Africa. In 1948, Achebe enrolled at University College, Ibadan, which was a new school. He intended to study medicine, but he soon switched to English literary studies. The college at Ibadan was affiliated with the University of London, and Achebe's course of study was very similar to that required by the University of London' s honors degree program. While at school, he contributed stories, essays, and sketches to the University Herald; these pieces were collected in Girls at War and Other Stories.
After he graduated in 1953, Achebe decided to make writing his life's work. He made as his goal effectively and realistically communicating the stories of the African people, particularly the Igbo civilization. Achebe worked as a teacher in his first year out of school. Then he began a career as a producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He remained there for twelve years, and was appointed director of the external broadcasting show, Voice of Nigeria. In 1957, he went to London to attend the British Broadcasting Corporation staff school where one of his teachers was novelist and literary critic, Gilbert Phelps. Phelps recommended for publication Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart, which presents an account of colonial history from the point of view of the colonized, and it appeared in the following year, 1958. His writing also encouraged Achebe to learn about his native culture to accurately depict it with his words. He did so by interviewing older people and reading the writings of colonial administrators and missionaries.
In 1967, civil war broke out in Nigeria. The eastern region declared itself the independent state of Biafra. Over the next thirty months, Achebe traveled to Europe and North America on Biafran affairs. During this period, Achebe retreated from long fiction, instead choosing to work on poetry and several short stories, including ‘‘Civil Peace.’’
Achebe's two follow-up novels to Things Fall Apart continue the story the first novel began. Together, these three novels span the pre-colonial Africa to colonial times to the days before Nigeria's independence from Britain. In works published since then, Achebe has continued to explore twentieth-century Nigerian life. Achebe has also published essay collections on literary and political subjects, particularly focusing on the role of the African writer in society.
In 1994, Achebe fled to Europe from the repressive Nigerian regime, which threatened to jail him. He moved to the United States, becoming a professor at Bard College in New York. In 1999, he was named a goodwill ambassador to the world by the United Nations Population Fund.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Chinua Achebe, christened at birth Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, was born in Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria on November 16, 1930, near the Niger River. His family was Christian in a village divided between Christians and the “others.” Achebe’s great-grandfather served as the model for Okonkwo, the protagonist of Things Fall Apart. Because he was an Ibo and a Christian, Achebe grew up conscious of how he differed not only from other Africans but also from other Nigerians. Achebe was one of the first graduates of University College at Ibadan in 1953. In 1954, he was made producer of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and in 1958 became the founding editor of Heinemann’s African Writers series; this position and the publication, in that series, of Things Fall Apart, account for his vast influence among writers of his and the following generation.
Achebe married Christie Chinwe Okoli in 1961 and became the father of four children. When a civil war began in Nigeria in 1966 with the massacre of Achebe’s fellow tribesmen in the northern part of the country, Achebe returned to the east, hoping to establish in the new country of Biafra a publishing house with other young Ibo writers. One of this band was the poet Christopher Okigbo, killed later that year in action against federal forces. After Biafra’s defeat in the civil war, a defeat which meant for many of his compatriots imprisonment in camps and “reeducation,” Achebe has worked as an educator as well as a writer. He traveled to the United States on several occasions to serve as a guest lecturer or visiting professor, and he visited many countries throughout the world. In addition, his interest in politics led to his serving as the deputy national president of the People’s Redemption Party in 1983 and then as the president of the town union in Ogidi, Nigeria, in 1986.
Achebe served as visiting professor on an international scale. Universities at which he taught include Cambridge University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of California, Los Angeles. A 1990 car accident injured Achebe’s spine, confining him to a wheelchair. He spent six months recovering, then accepted an endowed professorship at New York’s Bard College. He continued to teach and write throughout the 1990’s.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. He gives some details about his family and his early life in an essay titled “Named for Victoria, Queen of England” (1973, in Morning Yet on Creation Day). His parents, Isaiah and Janet Achebe, were both Christian, his father an evangelist and church teacher. His maternal grandfather, like the character Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, was a wealthy and distinguished community leader. He was not Christian, but he exercised tolerance when Achebe was converted. Achebe was baptized Albert Chinualumogu, named for Queen Victoria’s consort, but he dropped the Albert while at university, evidently as a reaction...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: World Poets)
Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born the fifth of six children of educated Igbo parents, Isaiah Okafor Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Achebe. He was born in Ogidi, a town in the eastern region of Nigeria. After converting to Christianity, Achebe’s father served as a catechist for the Church Missionary Society. From 1944 to 1948, Achebe attended the Government College, Umuahia, a highly competitive school, then received a scholarship to the University College, Ibadan (University of Ibadan). Initially, Achebe’s collegiate goal was to study medicine; however, his goals changed because of his interest in the academic areas of religion, history, and English literature. While at the University College, Achebe and several other students...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Chinua Achebe (ah-CHAY-bay) was born in Ogidi, in the Eastern Region of Nigeria, on November 16, 1930, to Isaiah and Janet Achebe, who christened their son Albert Chinualumogu—the former name after Queen Victoria’s beloved consort and the latter a powerful name in Igbo—suggesting that strong inner forces stand aligned to fight for him. Isaiah Achebe, a catechist for the Church Missionary Society, and his wife traveled through eastern Nigeria as evangelists before settling in Ogidi, Isaiah’s ancestral Igbo village, five years after Chinua Achebe’s birth. Growing up in Ogidi, Achebe had contact with both Christian and Igbo religious beliefs and customs, but he developed a special affinity for his pagan uncle and his...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
A socially and politically committed storyteller and writer who has garnered worldwide critical acclaim, Chinua Achebe has, more than any other African author writing in English, redefined modern African literature and helped the world value African culture without ignoring the difficult problems postcolonial African nations face. For a lifetime, he has battled the corrosive effects of racism on individuals and on Africa as a whole. He writes about Africa for Africans, bridging three periods: from the colonial era of his birth, to the years of nationalist protest of his youth, to the modern age of Nigerian independence and the oppressive regimes that have dominated his country. His novels examine more than one hundred years of Igbo...
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Albert Chinualumoga Achebe (Chinua Achebe) was born in the village of Ogidi in eastern Nigeria in 1930. His parents, members of the Ibo people, were missionary teachers. By the time Achebe was fourteen, he could speak English and he was sent to study at the Government College at Umuahia, one of the best schools in West Africa. Continuing on to college, Achebe matriculated at University College, Ibadan, a new school affiliated with the University of London, and studied English literature. While in school, Achebe published stories in the University Herald, and upon graduation he decided to be a wnter. In 1954, Achebe obtained a job with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, where he worked until the Nigerian government began persecuting the Ibo people in 1966. He then resigned and relocated to Biafra, the region in which many massacres of the Ibos were taking place.
Things Fall Apart, his first novel, appeared in 1958 and almost instantly gained renown. A portrait of traditional village life in Nigeria at the beginning of the colonial era, it reminded Nigerians about their heritage at a time when independence from British rule was imminent. In the novel, Achebe told Nigeria Magazine, he tried to remind his nation, and all Africans, that they ''did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans; that their societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty, that they had poetry and, above all, that they had dignity."
Achebe followed Things Fall Apart with two other novels about the meeting of the British colonial and the Nigerian indigenous cultures, No Longer At Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964). Both explore the waning colonial days of the country and its independence from British rule. In his other novels, he has examined issues related to self-rule and to the corruption and mismanagement that have often characterized the Nigerian government as well as many other African governments.
Although Achebe is primarily known as a novelist, he is a master of all forms of writing. During the two and a half years of the Biafran civil war that began in 1967, Achebe was not inclined to concentrate on long fiction. He did write poetry, much of which was later published in the collections Beware, Soul Brother, and Other Poems (1971) and Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems (1973). He also produced a number of short stories, many of which—including "Vengeful Creditor"—appear in his 1972 collection Girls at War, and Other Stories. Achebe has since published several stories for children and collections of essays. He returned to the novel in 1988 with the publication of Anthills of the Savannah. Set in an imaginary African country, it tells the story of three childhood friends who all rise to positions of political power. Emeritus professor at the University of Nigeria since the early 1970s, Achebe has also held a number of visiting fellowships and professorships at universities in the United States and England.
IntroductionChinua Achebe remains the most read African author in the world. His enormously successful first novel, Things Fall Apart, first published in 1958, has sold millions of copies and has been translated into numerous languages. Like many African writers, Achebe’s primary focus has been African identity. In particular, he has been highly critical of the way that Western literature has portrayed native Africans. His work also explores the many detrimental effects of centuries of colonialism on the African continent. In his fiction, essays, criticism, poetry, and even children’s literature, Achebe has questioned not only how the West views Africa but also how Africa views itself. Achebe’s potent social commentary has earned him worldwide acclaim.
- Achebe’s parents converted to Christianity, and all of their children’s names have spiritual connotations. Chinualumogu (Chinua’s full first name) means “May God fight on my behalf.”
- In his essay “An Image of Africa,” Achebe heavily criticized Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as one of many novels that depicts Africa as a place of ignorant savagery.
- Oral traditions and storytelling are important influences on Achebe’s work. He loved to hear the Igbo stories that his mother and sister told when he was a small boy.
- As a youth, Achebe read many Western novels but was often disdainful of the African characters...until, that is, he realized the racist biases of the authors.
- In 1990, Achebe was in a serious car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Chinua Achebe (ah-CHAY-bay), who became known as the founder of the modern African novel, was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in Ogidi, eastern Nigeria, on November 16, 1930. His father, Isaiah, was a Christian church teacher, but other relatives retained the traditional beliefs of their Igbo tribe. Young Achebe was educated at the local mission school, then at Government College, in nearby Umuahia, and finally at the national University College at Ibadan, where he received his B.A. in 1953. Following his graduation, Achebe worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation for a period of twelve years, rising from talks producer in the capital of Lagos to controller in Enugu to director of external broadcasting in Lagos again....
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Born in eastern Nigeria on November 16, 1930 Chinua Achebe was deeply influenced by the Ibo (one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria) and by the British colonial and post-colonial elements of contemporary African society. His father, one of the first Christian converts in the village, was a member of the Church Missionary Society and strongly discouraged his son from accepting native, non-Christian belief systems. Still, Achebe was drawn to the traditional beliefs and mythology of the Ibo. He began to learn English at the age of eight, and at fourteen he was selected to attend the Government College at Unuahia, one of West Africa's best schools. In 1948, he became a student in the first class at University College in Ibadan. Although intending to study medicine, he soon changed in favor of English coursework.
One year after graduating with honors in 1953, Achebe went to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company. His radio career ended, however, in 1966, when he left his position as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the political and religious unrest leading to the Biafran War, a civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and became involved in fundraising and diplomatic endeavors, a role similar to that of Chris Osodi in Anthills of the Savannah. In 1971, Achebe became the editor of Nigerian Journal of New Writing. Achebe is also a respected lecturer and teacher. From 1972 to 1975, he was Professor of English at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and in 1987 he accepted a year-long position as Professor of African Studies at University of Connecticut at Storrs. In addition, he has been Professor Emeritus at University of Nigeria at Nsukka since 1984.
Achebe began to exercise his writing ability while still working in radio, but it was not until he left broadcasting that he began to pursue writing seriously. His work includes poetry, short stories, children's writing, and novels. Achebe was one of the first to write in English about the contours and complexities of African culture. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, remains his best-known. Upon its publication, Achebe earned a reputation as a writer with a uniquely African point of view who could write honestly about British colonialism in Nigeria. Achebe published No Longer at Ease, The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories, Arrow of God, and A Man of the People, then waited twenty-one years to publish Anthills of the Savannah in 1987. His work since then includes Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987 and Beyond Hunger in Africa.
Regarded as one of the founders of Nigeria's literary development, Achebe uses his work to call for an end to oppression and a return to order, integrity, and beauty. He continues to combine his role as a storyteller with a sense of responsibility to write with purpose and to instruct his readers.