Biography of Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)
Chinua Achebe, poet and novelist, was one of the most important African writers. He was also considered one of the most original literary artists writing in English.
Born Albert Chinualumogo Achebe, Chinua Achebe was raised by Christian evangelical parents in the large village Ogidi, in Igboland, Eastern Nigeria. He received early education in English, but grew up surrounded by the complex fusion of Igbo traditions and the colonial legacy. He studied literature and medicine at the University of Ibadan; after graduating, he went to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company in Lagos. Things Fall Apart (1958) was his first novel. It has been translated into at least forty-five languages, and has sold eight million copies worldwide.
Starting in the 1950s, Achebe was central to a new Nigerian literary movement that drew on the oral traditions of Nigeria's indigenous tribes. Although Achebe wrote in English, he attempted to incorporate Igbo vocabulary and narratives. Other novels included: No Longer At Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of the People (1966).
Achebe left his career in radio in 1966, during the national unrest and violence that led to the Biafran War. He narrowly escaped harm at the hands of soldiers who believed that his novel, A Man of the People, implicated him in the country's first military coup. He began an academic career the next year, taking a position as Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria. That same year, he co-founded a publishing company with Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo. In 1971, he became an editor for Okike, a prestigious Nigerian literary magazine. He founded Iwa ndi Ibo in 1984; this bilingual publication was dedicated to Igbo cultural life. He was made Emeritus Professor at the University of Nigeria in 1985. He taught at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Connecticut, and he received over twenty honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He received Nigeria's highest honor for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award, in 1987. His novel Anthills of the Savannah was shortlisted for the Booker McConnell Prize that same year.
Achebe was active in Nigerian politics since the 1960s. Many of his novels dealt with the social and political problems facing his country, including the difficulty of the post-colonial legacy.
He was married and had four children. He last lived in the United States, where he held a teaching position at Bard College.