Chinua Achebe Biography

Chinua Achebe Biography

Chinua 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. 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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.


(History of the World: The 20th 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.

Early Life

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.

Life’s Work

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 novel, Achebe continued to develop the urban themes that he had presented in No Longer at Ease, but this time with a satirical edge, examining corrupt politicians who used to their own advantage the political system that they had inherited from the departed imperial power.

After a massacre of Ibos took place in Northern Nigeria in 1966, Achebe resigned his position with the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and moved to the Eastern Region of Nigeria, where he intended to go into publishing. When the region declared its independence as the separate state of Biafra, however, Achebe became personally involved with the ensuing civil war, serving the Biafran government from 1967 to 1970. During this period of his life, Achebe produced only one piece of work, a children’s book entitled Chike and the River (1966).

In the years following the war, Achebe produced three collections of poetry: Beware, Soul-Brother and Other Poems (1971, 1972), Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems (1973), and Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo (1978). In addition, Achebe was a coeditor of Aka Weta: An Anthology of Igbo Poetry (1982). With this turn to poetry as a medium for his creative talents, Achebe was able to distinguish himself as both a great novelist and a fine poet. During this period, Achebe also wrote a collection of short stories entitled Girls at War (1983) and coedited another collection entitled African Short Stories (1984). In addition, he produced three works of juvenile literature as well as a number of essays. In the 1980’s, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was adapted for stage, radio, and television.

In 1971, Achebe accepted a post at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. The following year, Achebe and his family moved temporarily to the United States, where he took a position with the University of Massachusetts as a professor in its Department of Afro-American Studies. In addition, during this period, he taught at several American institutions as a visiting professor. While in the United States, he was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from Dartmouth College. Additionally, Achebe shared, with a Canadian, the 1972 Commonwealth Prize for the best book of poetry in his Beware, Soul-Brother and Other Poems. In 1976, he returned to Nsukka, where he held the rank of professor and edited Okike, a literary journal.

The year 1988 saw Achebe return to the novel as an expression of his now world-renowned talents. His work Anthills of the Savannah was very well received and earned a nomination for the Booker Prize. According to Charles R. Larson, writing for the Chicago Tribune, “no other novel in many years has bitten to the core, swallowed and regurgitated contemporary Africa’s miseries and expectations as profoundly as Anthills of the Savannah.

In 1990 a serious car accident left Achebe confined to a wheelchair. Shortly thereafter he accepted a teaching position at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.


Chinua Achebe can be counted among the founders of the new literature of Nigeria, which has flourished since the 1950’s; it is a literature that draws upon traditional oral history as well as a modern, rapidly changing African society. As a founder of this movement, Achebe has paved the way for other notable African writers such as Elechie Amadie and Cyprian Ekwensi. In addition, he has influenced an entire second generation of African writers. Achebe has also helped shape and set into place the now characteristic features of the African novel, especially the effective use of very simple language, peppered with African words and proverbs and highly reminiscent of traditional African speech patterns. 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.”

Achebe’s novels, which comment strongly on the stages of change that have affected the entire African continent in the past one hundred years, not only are chronicles of events and trends in African history but also are extremely artistic expressions that contain a definite purpose. Unlike many novelists, Achebe rejects the notion that the writer is an individual who writes for his own personal pleasure or merely for the purpose of artistic expression. Instead, he sees the novelist as an educator. For example, in an interview with Bernth Lindfors, Achebe states: “One big message of the many that I try to put across, is that Africa was not a vacuum, before the coming of Europe, that culture was not unknown in Africa, that culture was not brought to Africa by the white world.” Through his novels, his poetry, his short stories, his career as an educator, and his extension into editing the African Writers series for Heinemann Educational Books, Achebe has succeeded in founding and nurturing a major literary movement of the twentieth century.


Cartney, Wilfred. Whispers from a Continent: The Literature of Contemporary Black Africa. New York: Random House, 1969. A survey of black African writers. Contains critical analyses of Arrow of God, A Man of the People, and No Longer at Ease as well as a discussion of how each ties into a relationship with African culture and European colonialism. Includes discussion on other writers of the Nigerian literature movement.

Githae-Mugo, Micere. Visions of Africa. Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau, 1978. Provides original interpretations of the works of Achebe as well as four other writers and examines their various works of fiction against a sociopolitical background. Also examines Achebe’s personal experiences and how they affected his writings.

Heywood, Christopher. A Critical View on Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” London: The British Council, 1985. A critical analysis of Achebe’s first novel. Contains information on Achebe’s life and work as well as his personal experiences and views on books and writing in general. Also includes selected writings from some of Achebe’s critics.

Owomoyela, Oyekan. African Literatures: An Introduction. Waltham, Mass.: Crossroads Press, 1979. A survey of African novels, short stories, poetry, and drama. Introduces major works and their authors. Contains critical and biographical information on Achebe and his first four novels. This book is for the general reader interested in African literature.

Ravenscroft, Arthur. Chinua Achebe. New York: Longmans, Green, 1969. A full discussion of Achebe’s first four novels, including critical and literary analysis and a brief summary of each of the four novels. Also contains biographical information on the author.

Wren, Robert M. Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart.” New York: Longman, 1980. A guide to Achebe’s first novel. Each chapter in Things Fall Apart is summarized with questions at the end of each section. Provides a brief introduction to Achebe’s life. Contains background information on the novel, the characters, and the time period covered.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
Chinua Achebe Published by Gale Cengage

Achebe was born in 1930 in the village of Ogidi in eastern Nigeria. His father worked for the Church Missionary Society, and his early...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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 against the British and his Christian heritage. He has explained, however, that he was never really torn between the two cultures. He experienced none of the agony that is often evidenced in the works of other African writers, such as Cheikh Hamidou Kane. Achebe enjoyed the rituals of both religions. He did come to wonder if the apostates were not the Christians rather than the pagans, but he noted some advantages brought in by Christianity: education, certain humane reforms, paid jobs. Achebe seems to have exhibited a pragmatic and tolerant strain from the beginning.

For his secondary education, Achebe attended Government College, Umuahia (1944-1947), and he received a bachelor of arts degree from University College, Ibadan, in 1953. During the next twelve years he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, first as producer in Lagos (1954-1958), then as controller in Enugu (1959-1961), and finally as director of external broadcasting in Lagos (1961-1966). In 1961, he married Christiana Chinwe Okoli, and they had two sons and two daughters. Also during these years Achebe wrote his first four novels, beginning with his most famous, Things Fall Apart, in 1958, and ending with A Man of the People in 1966. Achebe explains his novelistic career as the result of a revolution in his thinking during the nationalist movement after World War II. He decided that foreigners really could not tell the Nigerian story adequately. Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson (1939) was a prime example of this failure. Achebe regarded Things Fall Apart as an atonement for his apostasy, a ritual return to his homeland.

By 1966, Achebe was a distinguished member of the international literary community. In 1967, however, his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the war in Biafra, Achebe’s Igbo homeland in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. The conflict came to be essentially a civil war. Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and played a diplomatic role in raising money for the Biafran cause. Bound as he was by emotional ties and personal commitment to his country’s fate, Achebe had no time to write novels. All he could manage were short poems, which were published a year after the war was over (1971).

Achebe’s career after the war was taken up primarily by the academic world. In 1972, he was a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. From 1972 to 1975, he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and in the 1975-1976 academic year he was employed at the University of Connecticut. He then became a professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and ten years later was again at the University of Massachusetts. Three of his publications during that time were a collection of short stories, Girls at War, and Other Stories, written over a period of years going back to his university days; a collection of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day, that gave his views on a number of issues, from the Biafran war to the problems of African literature in the Western world; and a book-length essay on the Nigerian situation, The Trouble with Nigeria. When it seemed that Achebe had left his career as a novelist behind him, twenty-one years after A Man of the People, he produced the carefully crafted Anthills of the Savannah, bringing up to date the apparently futile attempts to end the vicious cycles of corruption and coups in Nigeria.

In March, 1990, while en route to the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Achebe was involved in a serious car accident and suffered a spinal injury that left him confined to a wheelchair. After nearly six months of recovery in various hospitals, he accepted an endowed professorship at Bard College in New York. For the next several years he turned his energies increasingly to the academic world, teaching, editing, and writing political and critical nonfiction.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(World Poets and Poetry)

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 founded a literary journal, The University Herald. In addition to publishing works in the journal, Achebe served as the editor during his third year of matriculation at the institution.

After graduation in 1953, Achebe served as a teacher at the Merchant of Light School. He began working for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1954, and two years later, he trained at the British Broadcasting Corporation. He published the inaugural text for the Heinemann African Writers series, Things Fall Apart, in 1959. The publication of this novel significantly changed the trajectory of Achebe’s writing career and his life. The novel has been published in many languages and has sold more than eight million copies. Moreover, Things Fall Apart ushered Achebe into the center of the critical conversation on African literature and social-political thought, giving him a central place in the canon of world literature.

In addition to a prolific writing career, Achebe has had an outstanding academic portfolio. His visiting professorships include posts at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1972-1975), the University of Connecticut (1975-1976), and City College of the City University of New York (1989). In 1986, Achebe was appointed pro-vice-chancellor of the State University of Anambra in Enugu. Achebe was the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College in 1990-2009. In September, 2009, he became the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana studies at Brown University.

In addition to being one of Africa’s most influential writers, Achebe is a family man. On September 10, 1961, he married Christie Chinwe Okoli, a professor of psychology. The couple had four children, Chinelo, Ikechukwu, Chidi, and Nwando.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 family.

Achebe’s first lessons were in Igbo at the church school in Ogidi, but he began studying English at age eight. An avid reader and outstanding student, fourteen-year-old Achebe entered Government College, a highly selective secondary school in Umuahia taught in English; many of his classmates went on to become prominent figures in Nigerian public life, including the poet Christopher Okigbo, who later helped Achebe found the Citadel Press and who died in the civil war. Upon graduation, Achebe accepted a Major Scholars medical scholarship to University College in Ibadan (an associate college of the University of London), a highly prestigious award resulting from his having attained the top African scores on the colonial examinations, but after one year he switched to English literature, forfeiting his scholarship but receiving financial assistance from his older brother John and other relatives.

Achebe and the Yoruban playwright Wole Soyinka, later Nigeria’s best-known authors, were undergraduates together at University College, each publishing his first work as undergraduates. Achebe’s first published fiction, “Polar Undergraduate,” later collected in Girls at War, and Other Stories (1972), satirizes student behavior. In his third year he edited the University Herald. The short stories produced while in school include “The Old Order in Conflict with the New” and “Dead Man’s Path.” After graduation in 1953, he took a producing position for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

Achebe had sent his only copy of Things Fall Apart to a British typist, who set it aside without a glance, but his NBC superior Angela Beattie rescued it. Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 and won the Margaret Wrong Memorial Prize in 1959 for its contribution to African literature. If Achebe had never written anything else he would still stand as an acclaimed author because of the power and influence of that single volume, translated into fifty languages and selling more than eight million copies. In 1960, the year of Nigeria’s independence, Achebe published No Longer at Ease, winner of the Nigerian National Trophy. He spent the remainder of 1960 and part of 1961 traveling through east Africa and interviewing other African writers. Back in Nigeria, he held a number of offices with the Nigerian Broadcasting Company, including talks director, controller, and director of the Voice of Nigeria in Lagos. He married Christie Chinwe Okoli, with whom he fathered two sons, Ikechukwu and Chidi, and two daughters, Chinelo and Nwando. His own children inspired his children’s stories.

In 1962, Achebe became the founding editor of Heinemann’s African Writers series, and in 1963, he traveled in the United States, Brazil, and Britain on a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization) fellowship. Achebe published Arrow of God (1964), receiving the Jock Campbell Award from New Statesman in 1965 for his accomplishment. Publication of the prophetic novel A Man of the People (1966) was followed by successive military coups, massacres of Igbos, and the secession of Biafra in 1967. Forced to leave Lagos after the second coup, during the Nigerian civil war Achebe became a spokesperson for the Biafran cause in Europe and North America and served as a senior research fellow at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, renamed the University of Biafra during the war.

After three years of bitter struggle, Biafra surrendered, and Achebe, more dedicated than ever to preserving Igbo culture, began editing Okike: An African Journal of New Writing. He published his literary response to the war in Beware, Soul Brother, and Other Poems (1971) and Girls at War, and Other Stories, winning the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972 for Beware, Soul Brother, and Other Poems, published in the United States as Christmas in Biafra, and Other Poems (1973).

From 1972 to 1976, Achebe taught at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where his wife earned a doctorate, and at the University of Connecticut. After the 1976 assassination of Nigerian President Murtala Mohammed, for whom Achebe had great respect, the author returned to teach at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. In 1979, Achebe was elected chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors and received the Nigerian National Merit Award and the Order of the Federal Republic. In 1982, he and Obiora Udechukwu edited Aka weta: Egwu aguluagu egwu edeluede (1982; aka weta: an anthology of Igbo poetry).

Disillusioned by President Shehu Shagari’s failure to fight the corruption impoverishing Nigeria and saddened by the death of Mallam Aminu Kano, the leader of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Achebe served as deputy national president of the PRP in the election year of 1983. In a small pamphlet, The Trouble with Nigeria (1983), he presented his political prescription for improving Nigeria. After Shagari’s reelection and removal from office by a subsequent military coup, Achebe once again concentrated his energies on artistic and cultural projects, editing the bilingual Uwa ndi Igbo: A Journal of Igbo Life and Culture. In 1986, he was appointed pro-vice chancellor of the State University of Anambra at Enugu.

Nigeria’s Civil War and resultant political conflicts so horrified Achebe that he could not write long fiction. Believing that art must guide readers to examine moral issues and offer lessons to lead them to better lives, he feared whatever he said might be turned to the service of destruction, oppression, or evil. Finally, in 1987 he published his first novel in more than twenty years, Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and he returned to teach at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (where he met author James Baldwin), the City College of New York, and Bard College. In 1988, he published a collection of essays titled Hopes and Impediments. In 1990, a serious car accident on the Lagos-Ibanan expressway and the lag time between injury and medical care left Achebe paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.

In 1992, Achebe, threatened with imprisonment, fled the repressive Nigerian regime to Europe, only to return to serve as president of the Ogidi town union, an honorary position recognizing his dedication to his ancestors’ ancient stories. He then served as the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College for fifteen years. In the meantime, Biyi Bandele converted Things Fall Apart into a play, produced in 1997 by the Performance Studio Workshop of Nigeria and presented as part of the Kennedy Center’s African Odyssey series the next year. In 1999, Achebe was appointed goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), encouraging family planning and reproductive health worldwide. In Home and Exile (2000), Achebe evaluated the past seventy years of African literature, his lifetime. The same year, fellow Igbo, novelist, and critic Phanuel Egejuru collected tribute names for her authoritative biography Chinua Achebe: Plain and Simple (2001), in which other Africans praised Achebe as both “teacher” and “double eagle” in recognition of his bridging two worlds: Africa and the West.

In 2003, Kenyan Catholics tried to ban A Man of the People from their school curricula; in 2004, Achebe rejected an award from the Nigerian government to protest its tyranny. Achebe won the 2007 Man Booker International Prize for fiction. In 2008, he was working on a short novel on ancient myths to be part of The Canongate Myth Series. That year also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart, which was celebrated by conferences and tributes worldwide.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 culture. Things Fall Apart will undoubtedly remain Achebe’s best-known work, but his entire canon makes a consistent and central contribution to the world’s literature.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
Chinua Achebe Published by Gale Cengage

Albert Chinualumoga Achebe (Chinua Achebe) was born in the village of Ogidi in eastern Nigeria in 1930. His parents, members of the Ibo...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Novels for Students)

Chinua Achebe is a world-renowned scholar recognized for his ability to write simply, yet eloquently, about life's universal qualilies. His...

(The entire section is 396 words.)

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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. During this period, he also began to write novels, initially in an effort to correct the picture of Africa given by the English writer Joyce Cary in Mister Johnson (1939), which Achebe had read while studying literature in college.

Achebe published his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958, two years before Nigerian independence. Set around the turn of the century, the book shows the arrival of the first English missionaries in an Igbo village named Umuofia. Countering the misconception that precolonial Africa was a void, Achebe gives a vivid, realistic description of Igbo culture that reveals certain factors in the culture (such as cult slaves and the ritual killing of twins) that made some members susceptible to conversion to Christianity, which often divided a tribe and rendered it unable to resist colonial takeover. The hero of the novel, Okonkwo, defends the traditional ways to the point of obsession because his personal status depends on them. When he violates some of the tribe’s rules in pursuit of his goal, he harms the very tribal integrity he had been attempting to preserve. In the end, he hangs himself. Okonkwo’s tragedy is partially caused by European imperialism, which exposes and takes advantage of the weaknesses in the tribe and its members.

Things Fall Apart was translated into dozens of languages and sold millions of copies, a level of success that led to some undervaluation of Achebe’s later novels. In 1960, Achebe published No Longer at Ease, whose hero, Obi, is Okonkwo’s grandson. This work is set in the period from 1955 to 1957, when Nigeria was moving toward self-rule. In Arrow of God, published in 1964, Achebe again returns to earlier times. Here he describes the downfall of Ezeulu, the chief priest of the god Ulu in the Igbo village of Umuaro during the 1920’s, a time when the British were creating “warrant chiefs” to implement their policy of indirect rule. Achebe’s fourth novel, A Man of the People, published in 1966, portrays corruption in an unnamed postindependence African country, presumably Nigeria. The book ends with an army coup designed to oust the bribe-taking politicians.

A Man of the People proved prophetic, since it was published in the same month, January, when Major General John-son Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo, took control of the government and mounted an anticorruption drive. Six months later, General Yakubu Gowon from the northern Hausa tribe succeeded in a countercoup, which unleashed a wave of anti-Igbo violence. Achebe was forced to leave Lagos and return home. A three-year civil war ensued as eastern Nigeria attempted, and failed, to break away as the independent country of Biafra. During the war, Achebe went on several missions to Europe and the United States as a fund-raiser for the Biafran cause. He also became associated as a Senior Research Fellow with the University of Nigeria in Nsukka from 1967 to 1972. Following the war, he was a visiting professor in the United States for four years at the Universities of Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 1976, he returned as a professor of English to Nsukka, where he became a professor emeritus in 1985. In 1986, he was named pro-chancellor of Anambra State University of Technology in Enugu, in eastern Nigeria. An automobile accident in 1990 left Achebe partially paralyzed. Afterward, he held visiting positions in universities in Europe and the United States. In the mid-1990’s, for example, he and his wife taught at Bard College in New York.

During the war and in the years following, Achebe found it difficult to write novels, but he remained productive, publishing a book of short stories, a volume of poetry, several works for children, and two collections of essays. In 1987, he brought out his first novel in more than twenty years. Anthills of the Savannah tells the story of three friends in the fictional country of Kangan as they come into conflict against a background of political turmoil and corruption. Many critics regard this novel as Achebe’s attempt to deal with the death of the Nigerian poet Okigbo.

Achebe believes it to be his duty to teach Europeans and Africans about the richness and validity of traditional African culture. The novels in which he does so, Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, are written in a direct, simple, and realistic style, yet by using a combination of Western literary devices and African oral traditions, he portrays his characters with subtlety and complexity.

In order to reach a wider audience, even within his own country, Achebe has deliberately chosen to write in English; he feels the English language can be shaped to express African reality. That reality is disturbing, and Achebe is unflinching in his depiction of the corruption and violence that trouble contemporary Africa. He blames African leaders for their failures, but he also sees the harmful economic manipulation on the part of European countries. Although bleak, Achebe’s outlook is not hopeless. He finds worth in ordinary human beings, in African culture, and in the human capacity to remember and to imagine.

Achebe’s influence on younger African writers has been enormous. He has been very active as an editor and publisher. Perhaps more important has been his example as a writer. He has established models of certain fictional situations, such as the initial colonial encounter, which have been much imitated. He has set standards of literary quality for others to emulate. Achebe’s critical essays, among them an analysis of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), influenced not only African but also European perspectives of colonialism and racism. His work continues to challenge and influence readers of all cultures.

Chinua Achebe Biography

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)
Chinua Achebe Published by Gale Cengage

Born in eastern Nigeria on November 16, 1930 Chinua Achebe was deeply influenced by the Ibo (one of the...

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