Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

Taken from a March 27 audio column from prisonradio.org.  The writer is a political prisoner at SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, Pa.

The brilliant light of a Nigerian masterwriter has gone out, and the world is poorer for it.

Chinua Achebe — whose stunning novel, “Things Fall Apart,” opened the doorway to the voices of traditional, ancestral Africa — has returned to the Essence after a long life of literature, politics, scholarship and strife.

His first novel told the searing tale of the entry of British colonial power into traditional village life and how it destroyed, transformed and deformed ways of living that had been obtained for thousands of years.

The title, “Things Fall Apart,” was taken from the Irish, Nobel Prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats, who wrote in “The Second Coming,” the following memorable phrase: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

That theme of the dissolution of African society, first by the violent impositions of British colonialism and later by a succession of rapacious, corrupt and brutal post-colonial governments, colored Achebe’s life and work.

Born into an Ibo family in 1930, Achebe supported the Biafra secessionist movement and briefly served as a diplomat for the short-lived state, until the Nigerian military crushed the movement.

In many ways, his life reflected not just political but cultural and religious conflicts. He was born to a Christian couple in the village of Ogidi, but family elders and grandparents held tightly to their traditional beliefs.

A young Achebe thus learned to listen to the battle between a multiplicity of worldviews: Christian and Ibo, British and Nigerian, Nigerian and Ibo.

He wrote, among other works, “Things Fall Apart” (1958), “A Man of the People” (1966) and “The Anthills of the Savannah” (1987). He also wrote poetry, essays and children’s stories.

Achebe taught at Bard College in New York and later at Brown University.

Professor Achebe was 82.