Biography of Chinua Achebe

Poet and novelist Chinua Achebe was one of the most important African writers of the last century. He was also considered by many to be one of the most original literary artists writing in English during his lifetime. He is best known for his novel Things Fall Apart (1958).

Born Albert Chinualumogo Achebe, Chinua Achebe was raised by Christian evangelical parents in the large village Ogidi in Igboland, Eastern Nigeria. He received an early education in English, but grew up surrounded by a complex fusion of Igbo traditions and colonial legacy. Achebe would later recall, "on one arm of the cross we sang hymns and read the bible night and day. On the other my father's brother and his family, blinded by heathenism, offered food to idols" (“Morning Yet on Creation Day”).

He studied at the University College (now the University of Ibadan), a British-style university, originally intending to study medicine, but eventually changing his major to English, history, and theology. After graduating, he went to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company in Lagos and later studied at the British Broadcasting Corporation staff school in London.

During this time, Achebe was developing work as a writer. Having been taught that Igbo values and culture were inferior to those of Europeans, and finding in Western literature only caricatured stereotypes of Africans, he wanted to conceive of an African literature that would present African characters and society in their full richness and complexity. Starting in the 1950s, he helped to found 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.

Things Fall Apart (1958) was his first novel, and remains his best-known work. It has been translated into at least forty-five languages, and has sold eight million copies worldwide. Other novels include: No Longer At Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of the People (1966). Many of his novels dealt with the social and political problems facing his country, including the difficulties of its postcolonial legacy.

Achebe became active in Nigerian politics in the 1960s. He left his career in radio in 1966 during the national unrest and violence that led to the Biafran War in 1967, when Biafra, an Eastern region in Nigeria, declared independence. That year he spent thirty months traveling Europe and the United States advocating for the new country. During this period, he produced several short stories dealing with the complex realities of the Nigerian Civil War; the best known of these stories is "Civil Peace."

After Biafra surrendered to Nigeria in 1970, Achebe took a position as a 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. In 1984, he founded Iwa ndi Ibo, a bilingual publication dedicated to Igbo cultural life.

Achebe's university career was extremely successful: 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 also 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 married and had four children. He last lived in the United States, where he held a teaching position at Bard College until 2009, when he joined Brown University as a professor of Africana Studies. In his later years, he also served as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. He continued writing throughout his life, producing both fiction and non-fiction, and winning awards like the Man Booker International Prize in 2007. His final published work was the literary autobiography There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Chinua Achebe died in 2013 of an undisclosed illness in Boston.


Study Guides on Works by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s novel Arrow of God was published in 1964. This is Achebe’s third novel after his books No Longer At Ease and Things Fall Apart. Together these three books are often referred to as the African Trilogy. This book was published as...

Chinua Achebe penned "Civil Peace" in 1971, depicting through it the effects of the Nigerian Civil War on a man and his family. The War, which began in 1967 with the secession of several Southeastern provinces from Nigeria, led to an intensive...

First published in 1966, A Man of the People offers a critical perspective on the nature of politics, power, and greed. In his novel, author Chinua Achebe assumes an "outside" perspective in order to illustrate the profound effects of governmental...

Written by Nigerian-born author Chinua Achebe, Marriage is a Private Affair tells the story of two young people named Nene and Nnaemeka who want to get married. The problem is, their parents don't want them to get married because their parents are...

There Was a Country was written by Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria’s most famous authors. It was published in 2012, after Achebe had remained in silence on the events of the Nigerian Civil War for over forty years. There Was a Country is an account...