Edited by: Nana Ayebia Clarke & James Currey
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ISBN: 978-0-9569307-6-7 | 352pp, 234 x153mm | Weight: 0kg | Paperback | Published 30 March 2014 | Rights: World Rights (excluding French)
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Books for Africa The African Bulletin August, 2015
Chinua Achebe Tributes and Reflections Review by Stephen Williams, African Business Magazine August/September 2014
Chinua Achebe, A mountain of the African Savannah
Review of: Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections /Nana Ayebia Clarke & James Currey (eds.) Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2014
After reading Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections you’re not only eager to re-read the novels of Achebe, but also all those fabulous novels and groundbreaking critical works that are under discussion in this book.
Reading this tribute to the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe who died last year at the age of 82, is a ‘must and a feast for the brains’. A feast because the book describes in plain but clear language – like the language of the author himself – the merits of Achebe as a writer, publisher, critic, scholar, but particularly as a human being.
It is also a feast to read the book because of the enormous variety of texts it contains: literary critical texts, praise poems, elegies and more personal, anecdotal texts about the important role that Achebe played in the life of some of the contributors of the book; texts of writers, critics, publishers, friends and colleagues; texts that particularly highlight the novels of Achebe; articles that predominantly deal with his first and groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart; texts that deal more with Achebe’s personal life, as a scholar at African and American universities; texts that particularly emphasize his role as inspiring publisher of the African Writers Series of the Heinemann publishing house; contributions that dig deeper into the literary history of Nigeria in particular and of Africa in general; texts that praise the writer Chinua Achebe, but also texts that adopt a quite critical attitude, for instance the one of Helen Chukwuma on the alleged lack of female perspective in Achebe’s early novels, or the texts of Ibrahim Bello-Kano and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about Achebe’s vision on Nigeria’s and Biafra’s history in his publications The Trouble with Nigeria and There Was A Country. Finally, there are texts that have been written especially for this book of tributes, after Achebe’s death in March last year, but also contributions that have been written at his 70th birthday, and, at the fiftieth publication anniversary of this celebrated novel Things Fall Apart.
The publication of Things Fall Apart, in 1958, was without doubt a milestone in the history of African literature, and even in literary history in general. For the first time a novel countered the biased – western - view of Africa, that was until then propagated by novels like Heart of Darkness (1902) of Joseph Conrad and Mister Johnson (1939) of Joyce Cary. Achebe portrayed in his novel, by use of plain but powerful language, a rural society that is disrupted, that fell apart, by the arrival of the white missionaries at the end of the 19e century, and, by the different ways in which the villagers reacted to this. Achebe did this – contrary to the Négritude writers and poets before him – without any exaggerated romanticism of African rural life. Even the more harsh and cruel sides of traditional society are not neglected. The novel is one of the masterpieces of African literature and had an everlasting influence on the literary production in Africa and on post-colonial discourse. The significance of Things Fall Apart can’t be better described than in the following words of Simon Gikandi op page 51:
(…) the influence of Things Fall Apart in shaping the literary sensibilities of African readers was unprecedented. But, the influence of Achebe’s novel went beyond questions of sensibility. Things Fall Apart transformed the African social imaginary, the stories Africans tell about themselves, their relation to the world and their place in the narrative of modern times. It also transformed the institution of modern literature and the English language, heralding the emergence of what has come to be known as the postcolonial canon. The publication of Things Fall Apart changed our understanding of English and its institutions of criticism. Finally the novel had, and continues to have, an affective, almost magical quality.
Chinua Achebe. Tributes and Reflections offers, apart from a lot of knowledge on Achebe, also quite some information on the (literary) history of Nigeria in particular, and of Africa in general. Therefore, the book is also a must for students of African literature, for literary scholars, and for anyone who really wants to understand Africa: connected to the contents of Achebe’s novels, the 49 contributions in the book highlight an important episode in the history of Nigeria: The Biafran independence war and the succeeding starvation of the people; it describes the gradual advent of colonialism in Africa, with the arrival of the first missionaries at the end of the 19e century and its consequences on traditional African life; it tells about the dominant representation of Africa in the West; about the Négritude movement of the West African and Caribbean Diaspora, that developed in Paris; it highlights the important issue of language use in African literature (African language vs. English, French…); it deals with the use of proverbs and sayings in African fiction, not in the least in the novels of Achebe himself; the volume articulates the publication of many masterpieces in the already mentioned African Writers Series of Heinemann. And, the book also pays attention to the literary debate of the seventies and eighties in which the so-called Bolekaja critics (Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike) opposed heavily against the Eurocentric vision of literary critics like Eustace Palmer and Berth Lindfors.
In short, because so many literary issues are dealt with in this tribute, it could as well be read as an introduction to African literature and its criticism. But also more advanced African scholars will enjoy it to their heart’s content; they will, for instance, like the beautiful praise poems of Wole Soyinka (p. 18) and Ngugi wa Thiong’o (p. 43) and might be particularly interested in the more tough critical articles, like the one from Ibrahim Bello-Kano (p. 112) about the mediocre quality of some of Achebe’s books or they may like the contribution of Ato Quayson (p. 275), that particularly deals with the aspect of alienation in Achebe’s novel Arrow of God (1964).
But, first and foremost, this book is a tribute to Chinua Achebe as a result of his passing on, in March last year. Many a contributor in the book poses the question whether Chinua Achebe was the real godfather of African literature. For some he is, for others he isn’t. The answer to the question is, however, not that important. But, there is general agreement that Chinua Achebe, as a writer, as scholar, as teacher, but particularly as human being, is one of the most important and influential Africans of the past century. In this context, some beautiful lines from the poem Dear Teacher by Tijan M. Sallah, on page 293:
As we ponder your Exit;
We know a weighty star in our sky has left us.
Our bruised hopes seek your soaring light,
At the edge of clouds. We stare. We mourn.
We will remember you for your dreams to make Africa fly.
Your light to illuminate the untruths about Africa.
We will remember your integrity and your spine.
Dear Teacher, now that we have lost you,
Someone else must bear your weight.
And, now, as we ponder your Exit.
A heavy sadness squats in our hearts.
We will not let it go -
Until Africa awakes to your wisdom.
What, then, was so special about Chinua Achebe? Why has he become such a literary icon? What were his merits?
The article of Zaynab Alkali Reflections On Chinua Achebe could be read as an overview of these merits: in contrast with the western literature about Africa, or with fiction with an African setting, the common Africans recognized themselves in Achebe’s books. The fiction dealt with everyday life and rituals. Moreover, the fiction of Achebe didn’t over-romanticize or demonize the African continent – like Heart of Darkness did, for instance – but showed an African society as it was, with all its positive and negative sides. Another aspect of Achebe’s mastery was the creative way in which he moulded the English language, complete with local proverbs and sayings, in such a way that as a reader you could smell, feel and fathom the local society. Achebe’s creative use of the English language was a great inspiration for later African writers. Thirdly, as an enthusiastic editor of the renowned African Writers Series of Heinemann he launched many African writers. Further on, with his essay collections Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), Hopes and Impediments (1989) and Home and Exile (2000) he laid the foundations for the modern literary criticism on Africa and the postcolonial discourse. His plain standpoint about Heart of Darkness – namely, that it portrayed an absolute racist view about Africa – changed forever the vision on this historical novel, but, more importantly, on the colonial literature of the late 19th and early 20th century. Finally, Achebe’s controversial viewpoints about the Biafran secession war had an everlasting influence on the debate on this conflict. But, most of all, Achebe is considered as a very great, amiable and approachable, humanistic thinker and person, as the conscience of Africa. It can’t be expressed more concisely than by the words of Barack and Michelle Obama:
A revolutionary author, educator and cultural ambassador, Chinua shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art. (quoted by Zaynab Alkali on page 107)
Chinua Achebe was certainly one of the giants of the African literary savannah; not a barren savannah! No, one that is abundant and rich with hills full of talent; but, Achebe was towering above these like a mountain, among other literary mountains like Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Dennis Brutus, Nadine Gordimer and others. Chinua Achebe was born on 16 November 1930 and died on 21 March 2013. But, his legacy lives on
Achebe is still alive in millions of lives
He talks to them in beautiful prose
He tells them proverbs of wisdom
He is a man of the people
A Writer of the people now and tomorrow
(Section of a praise poem on Achebe of the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, p. 42)
The publication of Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections, a year after his passing on, is a milestone in African literary criticism, as it captures in a powerful and clear way the life and times of one of the greatest Africans in the past century.
(Editor Africa Book Link)
New African Review on Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections, July 2014
Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections Eds. Nana Ayebia Clarke & James Currey, Oxfordshire, UK, 2014, pp. 340
If the world hasn’t made a beaten track to your doorstep at your demise, you are probably not a genius. For the late literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, more than a year after he passed on, strings of paean have continued to resonate across the world and the beaten track grows in leaps and bounds.
One of such is this recent published book of tributes and reflections by two former editors of Heinemann, London; Nana Ayebia and James Currey. While Nana Ayebia was the former Submissions Editor for Heinemann African Series until 2002 for twelve years, Currey worked with Achebe from 1967 on the first 100 titles of the Heinemann African Series.
Though few of the contributions in the new book were excerpted from previous publications on the author, the majority were written soon after his death was announced. The contributors include Africans and writers from other parts of the world, who pursue the Achebean phenomenon from diverse perspectives, especially as it impacted on them.
TheNews (Lagos, Nigeria) Tuesday 17th June 2014
Tributes To The Master Storyteller
Reviewer: Nkrumah Bankong-Obi
Writers and publishers pay their respects to the late Professor Chinua Achebe in a new book
He is not a contributor to the collection of tributes yet his words reverberate throughout the book. His is the complement that most of the writers cling onto in appreciating the influence of a man acknowledged as the “Father of modern African literature.” The sign of the high approval rating that sweeps through the majority of the essays in honour of Chinua Achebe came from the great African icon, Nelson Mandela. The effect of that tribute, “There was a writer in whose company the prison walls fell,” speaks of the enigmatic value of Achebe as a socio-cultural emancipator of the African from the blurred representations of his western counterparts.
Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections, a compendium of essays, poems and drama sketch, edited by Nana Ayebia Clarke and James Currey, pay homage to Professor Achebe, the symbol of modern African writing who passed away last year at the age 82. The editors, Achebe’s colleagues at Heinemann, set the stage in capturing what the author of Things Fall Apart represented in his lifetime and perhaps for humanity today. Clarke for example, states her gratitude clearly: “The publication of this book is my own tribute to Chinua Achebe. As a woman, an African and as a publisher and champion of African writing, I am extremely proud and grateful for his enduring contributions to raising the profile of African writing on the international stage.”
Lyn Innes, whose obituary tribute is culled from The Guardian of London, provides the reader with some useful biographical information about the subject of the book. Apart from Achebe’s bio data, Innes writes of his struggles as a writer with Nigeria, his [Achebe’s] native country that is bedeviled with an unfortunate political leadership that has driven the country to a developmental sclerosis. In a piece titled “Profile: Chinua Achebe – Storyteller of the Savannah,” Maya Jaggi combines commentary on the personality of Achebe and insight into his works. In the course of the text, one finds the contributors giving slices of their experiences, encounters and perceptions of the man with whom they bandied ideas with different forums and from different perspectives. Jaggi remembers Achebe’s humility in rejecting the toga of “The Father of African Literature.” While others celebrate and bestow this literary crown on Achebe, the master novelist himself, according to Jaggi, pitched his tent elsewhere. Jaggi notes that Achebe praised Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-wine Drinkard “for opening the floodgates to modern West African writing in 50s.”
Themes like the place of women in Achebe’s writings also creep into the text. A few of those who inked the pieces try to stoke a debate as to how generous the celebrated fiction writer treated the female folk in his works. There is however a comprehensive acknowledgement that even though Achebe did not design his women-characters as loudmouths, loquacious and overtly corrupt beings or as a competitive bunch contesting for space with the menfolk, he had a very important place for them when it mattered most and they acted as such critical times. Put differently, Nuruddin Farah, the Somali exile writer, feels that Achebe can be excused for whatever shortcomings his treatment of women in his novels were. This pardon, he argues, is hinged on the fact that Achebe had a great fighting match across the Atlantic in responding to the despicable portrayal of the African and Africa by racists writers – remember Achebe’s repudiation of Robert Greene and Joyce Cary for being parochial in their representation of Africans in their writings. Thus, Farah says, Achebe took up the bigger task of settling the cultural quarrel between Africa and the rest of the world, leaving internal quarrels for other writers, himself [Farah] inclusive, to settle.
Elsewhere in the book, another contributor testifies to how Achebe laid the boulders upon which he climbed to fame as a writer. The testimony didn’t come from any less a man in the creative enterprise than Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer. Ngugi shares his experience after meeting Achebe for the first time in Kampala, Uganda at a writers’ conference. Despite his tight schedule and being in the middle of writing his own novel, Ngugi tells the reader that Achebe still found space within the conference to read the draft of Weep Not Child, offering useful suggestions. This was capped with the publication of the text in the Heinemann African Writers Series, thus laying the foundation for the East African’s fecund creative output from thereon.
The diversity of the themes in the text manifests in the approaches adopted by individual writers. And it is pertinent to mention Wole Soyinka’s poetic intervention. Deep in reflection, Soyinka compares Achebe to his nation, Nigeria. The result is a harvest of unpalatable results showing the individual excelling in his respect for humanity and the skills he possesses while the nation, so-loved, dwindles unfortunately towards the abyss of self-condemnation. Characteristic of Soyinka, he highlights the absence of the very basic essentials of sanity in the country that make life in Nigeria bleak and the future uncertain:
———There sits the nation
All faculties intact, but wheelchair bound
Your lesson of the will, alas, a creative valour
Marks the gulf between you and that land
We claim our own
John Pepper Clark’s The Casualties is reproduced in Chinua Achebe… Written in the 1970s to assuage the pains of the Nigerian Civil War, The Casualties is dedicated to Chinua Achebe. It is an example of a fellow-feeling shared by a generation that had more than just friendship in common.
The editors did a great job in ensuring that the book of tributes did not become a collection of hagiographic inscriptions. There are also, articles whose authors interrogate Achebe in such ways that help to shed even more light on his writing. Ibrahim Bello-Kano’s essay, “Chinua Achebe: A Dissenting Opinion,” may appear to attempt to put down some of the contributions of the fiction icon. But he succeeds in calling our attention to the very pertinent issues, such as progression or regression of Achebe’s creative output at a certain stage of his life and career. While Bello-Kano acknowledges the indisputable role Achebe played in ‘writing back to the West’, he however, believes that his latter-day works lost steam and the magnet that made his earlier books, Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God and No Longer At Ease compelling reads. As a literary critic of a different temperament, Bello-Kano believes Achebe’s A Man of the People, The Trouble With Nigeria and There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra laid bare the author’s world view which falls short of satisfying the needs of the positive leadership question that his literature strives to correct. Kano raises a fundamental question portraying Achebe as romanticizing with the idea of leadership woven around ‘voluntarism,’ propelled by high moral standing of a leader who guides his people by example rather than by laid down principles. He concludes that Achebe fails to consider the facts of history, leadership based on collective principles as the basic solution to the leadership question in the country. In a nutshell, he argues against the archetypal model of leadership that Achebe appears to be inclined to.
There is a dramatic adaptation of Achebe’s A Man of the People ably crafted by Femi Osofisan, which he calls “The Discombobulation of a Rookie Patriot.” From novel to playlet, the piece retains the theme of corruption and ineffectual leadership, drawing attention to spectacle, acoustics and other forms of performance that are hitherto silent in the original narrative.
The book is the product of 49 contributors, including three Nobel laureates – Wole Soyinka, Nardine Gordimer and Toni Morrison. There are other renowned writers from either side of the Atlantic. Their slices on Achebe give the reader a rounded view at the man who is unarguably the symbol of modern African fiction.
In addition and overwhelmingly too, it is his championing the cause of responding to early European writers who portrayed Africans as being less than human that is instructive. In this fight, he wasn’t just interested in tunes that suit black people’s ears, he showed enough commitment to a rounded humanity hence “An unflinching consciousness of all the flaws that blemish our inheritance. Of all things, I remember, that was the clearest: I must not make this story look nicer than it was. I went out of my way to gather all the negative things, to describe them as I think they were – good and bad – ordinary human beings as neither demons nor angels. I dare anybody to say; these people are not human,” he challenged detractors of Africans. So was the storyteller’s unshaken stance.
Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections is published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited, Banbury, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.
Among the role call are Nobel laureates –Professor Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer and legendary writers and critics such as, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Simon Gikandi, Abiola Irele, Zaynab Alkali, J.P. Clark-Bekederemo, Ernest Emenyonu, Biodun Jeyifo, Bernth Lindfors, Ali Mazrui, Micere Mugo, Odia Ofeimun, Kole Omotoso, Niyi Osundare, Eustace Palmer, Ato Quayson, Véronique Tadjo, to name a few. In all, there are 49 contributors.
The contributions range from poetic elegies, prose paean and reflections on his writings. There is also an interview by Helon Habila and a stage adaptation of one of his novels, No Longer at Ease, by the celebrated playwright, Professor Femi Osofisan.
Nana Ayebia in her preface to the book notes that the publication of the book is her own contribution to the deceased writer. “As an African and as a publisher and champion of African writing, I am extremely proud and grateful for his enduring contributions to raising the profile of African writing and publishing on the international stage,” she writes (p. 1).
For Maya Jaggi, the Ogidi-born writer was “the founding father of African literature” who challenged the perspective of colonialist white writers in English and fell foul of successive regimes in Nigeria.” Soyinka’s Elegy for a Nation portrays the Nigerian hubris, a yoke which the nation has been labouring under after the colonial era.
In an emotional speech written by Toni Morrison, first presented at the African American Institute Award in the US, the Nobel laureate acknowledged the effect of Achebe’s writings on her and other blacks at the first encounter: “Achebe’s work liberated my artistic intelligence as nothing else had ever done. I became fit to re-enter and re-inhabit my own milieu without the services of a native guide.”
Probably James Currey’s article “Chinua Achebe as a Publisher” presents rare insights into aspects of the personal history of Achebe that many people are not aware of yet: that of life as a publisher and his cross-cultural straddling. For Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Achebe “was the most single important figure in the development of modern African literature as a writer, editor and quite simply a human being” (p. 41).
“Far from Ogidi: Diary of a Belated Encounter” by Simon Gikanda recalls the critic’s encounter with Achebe in Princeton, in 2005, which left him enthralled, and subsequently in 2012. Despite the controversy trailing the publication of There was a Country, Gikandi believes it was the writer’s last will and testament: “Indeed, this book will put the unspeakable event at the centre of Achebe’s life and that of his nation, the Biafran, in the public sphere, so that this painful moment can be spoken of as the genocidal event that it is really was, rather than be hidden behind the mask of euphemism” (p. 55).
Ama Ata Aidoo’s piece “Remembering Chinua” recalls pleasant memories shared with the author of the classic, Things Fall Apart, that date back to the 1960s. “We miss Chinua Achebe already and will always miss him,” she laments.
While Professor Emenyonu describes Achebe as a comet, the “inimitable pacesetter, who gave Developing World writers of the 20th Century, not only an aggressive message but also an enduring medium to convey it.” Professor Toyin Falola describes him as a figure that perhaps represents the pride of Nigeria better than any other person. In an interview granted the writer, Helon Habila, which is published in chapter 31 of this book, the novelist spoke about his fears for Nigeria’s future.
The prose and poetry of Achebe is also evaluated by Ali Mazrui.
The diversity and depth of contributions explored in Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections are too detailed to be contracted in this review. Achebean scholars and fans have been provided with yet another literary omelette to relish.
Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections… Honouring Africa’s Cultural Exponent
Review by Anote Ajeluorou in The Nigerian Guardian on Friday 20 June 2014
HE’S been gone now for a year and three months. But like the great cultural legislator and storyteller that he was, Chinualumogu Albert Achebe’s tale will continue to be told and retold ad infinitum. Barely a year after, a book marking his passing, Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections, published by Oxfordshire-based Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited and edited by the pair of Nana Ayebia Clarke and James Curry, has come out. The two had worked closely with Achebe at the Heinemann African Writers Series for many years.
The book on Africa’s chief cultural icon, Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections, could not have come at a better time for a re-evaluation of the pioneering work of Achebe. The double-barrelled ‘tribute and reflections’ appropriately serves the dual purpose of the book, as contributors not only pay tribute to the pioneering work of Achebe in making a case for Africa’s humanity that colonising Europe denied her for their selfish economic and political interests but as a critique of Achebe’s lifelong work, as Africa’s pre-eminent cultural ambassador.
Indeed, Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections assembles some of the finest African scholarships in the humanity sector from around the world. They are scholars of either African descent living in or outside the continent or those with deep ties to African literary and cultural scholarship, which gives the book wide-ranging breath and depth of interrogation. Three Nobel Laureates – Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer – join in the chorus of tributes. In fact, every name worth its salt in African literary discourse makes a contribution to this unique book of treasure in honour of Achebe.
As is usual with such books, there are those who simply eulogise the great writer for his immense contributions to the development of African literature and in bringing it to world attention. These are those who personally benefitted from the mentoring Achebe gave them even, as they made their first tentative steps into the world of writing. They affirm Achebe’s humility, his simplicity, how he was a great listener, how approachable he was, how he encouraged everyone to write their own stories because he believed in the power of the story to change minds, how much importance he attached to the story, as the living history of the people.
For Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Achebe “made a whole generation of African people believe in themselves and in the possibility of their being writers.”
But Achebe wasn’t just a novelist; he was also a great essayist. Through his essays he laid out his literary vision and what his craft and those of others, especially of African descent should be, in reshaping the African cultural and humanistic landscape before a world that sees Africa with strange, uncomprehending eyes.
Achebe wasn’t just a writer he was also a publisher. This aspect is brought out by two publishers; James Currey (British) and Henry Chakava (Kenyan), both men having been part of the Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS) for many years.
Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections brings into one neat volume insightful reading of Achebe’s literary and scholarly vision. It maps out the various facets of his literary works, how they rewrote Africa’s story and their very projections from the past to the future. Also his critical writings also come into scrutiny.
As to be expected, there’s poetry as well to serenade the poet home. Great, flowing and moving poetry that sings of the bard’s passing, what he left behind, what he taught a whole continent about itself and the very void his passing has left. Drama isn’t left out, as Femi Osofisan’s adaptation of A Man of the People is also included. Indeed, the tributes are as varied as Achebe’s life and work; they capture the essence of the man and what he stood for and will continue to stand for in the minds of a grateful continent that learnt at his feet.
But as would be expected, not everyone agrees with Achebe’s creative vision and what he achieved with his craft. Of course, such sentiment didn’t start with this book. Achebe had detractors while he was alive and also now that he’s gone. First is the credit usually accorded him as the father of African literature that he always rejected. Rather than being the controversial ‘father of African literature’, Eustace Palmer prefers ‘father of modern African literature’ an appellation that may sit well with some people.
Abiola Irele is first to set the record straight, as it were, when he takes on Adewale Maja-Pearce, who disparages Things Fall Apart, as a bad book for celebrating ‘virile men and virtuous women’. In Irele’s methodical analysis, the mind of Achebe is better explained, as not only being restorative but also laying bare some of the evils that plagued Umuofia society. Irele also locates writers, who had long written before Achebe came onto the scene. But as Irele puts it, “As we are all aware, the novel (Things Fall Apart) rapidly assumed an innovative significance, one which it has never lost, going on to lend to modern African literature as a whole the worldwide resonance that derived from its status as a modern classic.”
For others like Kenya’s Ali Mazrui and South Africa’s Njabulo Ndebele, Achebe’s life and work afforded them the opportunity for alternative vision for the continent of Africa that has occupied a marginal status in world reckoning. Helen Chukwuma sets aright for all time charge of bias against women often flung at Achebe in his novels, which he manages to redeem in Anthills of the Savannah. Chukwuma explores the depth of Achebe’s authenticity in portraying women as it was in African, Igbo social complex. Her piece serves as a vindication of Achebe’s deep understanding of the issues and how he gave due regard to that.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ibrahim Bello-Kano and Kole Omotoso are some of those who disagree in part with Achebe, particularly his creative vision. Adichie, for instance, is not in agreement with some of Achebe’s views, as laid out in his last book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. For her, Achebe remembers differently and is somewhat uncritical of Biafra warlord, Emeka Ojukwu. She feels that some sloppiness in the book could have been avoided through better editing.
Bello-Kano believes Achebe had a narrow vision of Nigeria and had particular aversion to the Northern part of Nigeria, which he depicts as anthills in his last novel Anthills of the Savannah, a place of barrenness. He calls it a disappointing novel, saying it was why it failed to win The Booker Prize in 1987, when it was shortlisted. So bitter is Bello-Kano’s conception of Achebe that he admits, “So while I pay grudging tribute to this important novelist and essayist, I should remark, at the same time, that we should not, in our usual romantic rush to venerate our (cultural) heroes, forget earlier illustrious and master English-Speaking storytellers such as Amos Tutuola (1920-1997) and Cyprian Ekwensi (1921-2007)”.
Although Omotoso says he owes so much to Achebe in his life and career, he sees inconsistency in Achebe’s narrative vision. Perhaps, the most notable is Omotoso’s charge that Achebe fails to side with humanity, as art is wont to do, as he makes Obi reject Clara on grounds that she’s Osu. As he puts it, “For me, Chinua Achebe’s failure as an artist is his inability to follow the logic of his calling as an artist.” Obi’s abandoning of Clara with the unborn child is to Omotoso, “Achebe abandons humanity and fails to make a promise of a better future to that unborn child.”
Indeed, Chinua Achebe: Tributes and Reflections is a great addition to Africa’s cultural history, the finest collection of incisive essays on a continent’s cultural history as epitomized in Achebe’s writing. Through these 49 incisive essays young readers will particularly enrich their knowledge of their continent, what has gone before that was unsavoury, how to approach the future armed with a better understanding of the past and how to deal in a world that has largely been hostile. This is the genius of Achebe in bringing together in this volume deep cultural exposition to a much-maligned continent for which Achebe, acting on the people’s behalf, illuminated for all to see!
It’s doubtful if any other writer will elicit these outpouring of emotions. Clarke and Currey are to be commended for this huge cultural exposition served through the medium of Achebe.
Chinua Achebe renowned as Africa’s most famous novelist and author died in Boston, USA, on 21st March 2013 at the age of 82. He is recognized as the founding father of Modern African writing in English. The publication of his first novel Things Fall Apart not only contested European narratives about Africa but also challenged traditional assumptions about the form and function of the novel. His literary life spanned over fifty years, from the publication of Things Fall Apart (1958) to There Was A Country (2012), his memoir of the Nigerian Biafran war in the 1960s. Things Fall Apart – a classic 20th century fiction has been translated into over 50 languages and sold millions of copies all over the world.
Before Achebe came on the world literary scene in the late 1950s, African literature was considered by the rest of the world and more sadly, by many educated Africans themselves, as a quixotic enterprise, in which dark forests and evil spirits held all the shares. Achebe was not only an accomplished writer but also a man who was close to his readers and had the precious gift of being a great communicator and storyteller of African realities. His legacy as one of Africa’s most vocal voices against the ravages of colonialism and its long-term effects on Africa will endure through his writings for generations to come. This volume is a fitting tribute to his legacy. Achebe was the conscience of Africa – his death gives new significance to his writing, anchoring his activism and his literary legacy in eternity. He will be remembered internationally as one of Africa’s greatest writers.
About the Editors
James Currey is the founder of James Currey Publishers and the first Editor of the Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS) where he worked very closely with Achebe on the first 100 titles. Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE - founder of Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd is a Ghanaian-born publisher. She was Submissions Editor of the AWS until 2002 when Heinemann discontinued publishing new titles in the AWS and she started her own publishing imprint with her husband David in 2003. Between them they worked on the Heinemann AWS for a total of 30 years.
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