Chinua Achebe

We are celebrating posthumously the birthday of one of Nigeria’s greatest writers Chinua Achebe at Praxis magazine. Our team members share their experience with Achebe.

In Anthills of the Savannah I encountered Chinua Achebe’s real power. Three formidable heroes—Chris, Beatrice and Ikem. None of these characters leave you with nothing to ruminate on. Is it Chris’ last words “The Last Grin,” and everything—the poetics—that led to the utterance, or the intelligent conversation between Beatrice and Ikem in its Chapter Seven? Achebe had answers, and in this book I found an answer to a question that often plagues the young writer, that of the internal antagonisms between the liberal spirit and conservatism. “But contradictions are the very stuff of life,” Ikem chimes, and continues: “If there had been a little dash of contradiction among the Gadarene swine some of them might have been saved from drowning.” This important detail here has helped shaped my opinion about extremities in belief and belief systems, cultural values, the place of religious thought and so on. Contradiction is not after all a bad thing, but a good one, which “can spark the fires of invention.” And that which is opposed to invention, Orthodoxy, mostly tends to eliminate contradiction (anything antagonistic to it) to stay the rigidity of values and belief systems, however they be inhibitive of progress and creativity. This thinking and sentiment is often tied and inspired by Purism, whose bare face only results in the doom of humanity. To this, still in the grail pages of Anthills, Ikem says: “..whatever you are is never enough; you must find a way to accept something however small from the other to make you whole and save you from the mortal sin of righteousness and extremism.” Even if these words come from the mouth of the character, we cannot hide the author behind them. Chinua’s generation and ours are blessed to have a man like him who lived among us.

Happy birthday to an agada.

— Carl Terver

One of my earliest memories of my father is of him reciting, word for word—with matching gesticulation—a scene out of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It is the one where the Mbanta village python is killed by one of the Christians and Okonkwo berates the elders into taking action. The confidence in my father’s performance of this scene in the book enhanted me; how he knew he wouldn’t miss a word, little smile on his dark face, giving life to the scene in a way I knew I could never. When he recited “Let us not be cowards…” I wanted above all else in life to not be a coward.

I have since tried to replicate his extemporaneous mastery of that scene without success, little credit to my less-efficient memory. But what I have not failed at is replicating his love for Achebe. Achebe was the voice of my childhood. I ate all my meals with his books in my left hand, long before mobile devices took their place. I gained the unsavory reputation of having depleted my father’s library because I would always sneak books out and somehow fail to return them. It was the relatability of his stories, how they moved you and blessed you with knowledge.

It is difficult to speak of Achebe in past tense because I never knew the man in flesh. The only Achebe I knew—and know—is the one who spoke through characters in unrivaled wisdom and a peculiar appreciation of the African and human problem. The one still speaking through his characters. It is impossible for such a person to die.

Happy birthday, Chinua.

— Anthony Madukwe

In remembrance of a great man, on his posthumous birthday

I do not remember when I was first introduced to Chinua Achebe’s work. Like the trees, rocks and rivers that make up the African landscape, for me it was always there. Well-used copies stood on my parent’s bookshelves, and his masterpiece Things Fall Apart was always part of the dialogue in high school and at university, as it still is even now.

His work does what art has crucially sought to do in Africa since Colonialism. It stands against inequality and oppression—for in his words, “art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”

— Shannon Hopkins

I can’t remember the exact moment that I learnt about Achebe, I feel I’ve always known about him the way most people have always known of Dickens. While Things Falls Apart has always been regarded as his seminal work, it is No Longer at Ease that I have read and resonated with. Achebe’s prose is masterful and No Longer at Ease demonstrates his understanding of the human condition—the choices that make and break us, as well as our motivations.

Tariro Ndoro

You have been asked to review a list of interesting books for secondary school literature students about to graduate. As you scan the list the fifth title stops you because you’ve heard about it in passing, but you have never bothered to read it. You thought it was a novel old and set in her ways; it would be headache to read.

You get a copy of the book anyway. When you start reading, the opening paragraph upsets your sitting position. You read through the first pages, shocked and awed at the carefulness of the prose, how a merger of sentences yields a steady paragraph; the fluidity with which the author switches between English and the native language. You wonder how a work titled Things Fall Apart holds up well, quite well.

Since then, you’ve interfaced with a number of comments and opinions about the Chinua Achebe. He was a writer with no regard for style, some have said. If style is defined as rigid structures and predictable dialogues, you might be right. But if style is presenting characters with vivid scenarios, characters who do not intrude into your quarters but gently sneak up on your window, then Chinua Achebe does this like a master.

Even now, when you flip pages of any of his works, it does not read like a writer trying to impress. It reads like a man capturing the moments of a love dance, and inviting you to come watch.

Michael Emmanuel

The first time I encountered Chinua Achebe was in 2003 when we had to read Anthills of the Savannah in preparation for a national essay competition. And after then, Mr. Fidelis, our English teacher, never stopped talking about him.

I experienced Achebe in a different form in 2016 when my company, Box Office Studios, produced a documentary film about the Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA). I had the privilege of interviewing some writers who were present in the meeting that founded ANA, including Kole Omotoso and Mabel Segun. Through their testimonies and my interaction with archival materials, I experienced Achebe as a visionary, a writer who genuinely wanted to build institutional support for writing and writers. If you look at the founding objectives of ANA, you will see that if Achebe’s dream for the Nigerian writer had been fully pursued, we’d have had the much desired support for literature by now.

Thirty-five years later, the Nigerian writer is still yearning for that which Chinua Achebe had envisioned on that beautiful hill in Nsukka. Thankfully, platforms like Praxis are rising up to the challenge. Achebe was a thinker and a dreamer.

— Tee Jay Dan

Watch the ANA documentary film here:

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