Chinua Achebe Biography

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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)

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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...

(The entire section is 3,644 words.)