Things fall Apart: Biography

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Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born the son of Isaiah Okafo, a Christian churchman, and Janet N. Achebe, November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, Nigeria. He attended University College of Ibadan, studying medicine and then switching to literature. He changed his name to Chinua Achebe and after graduation worked as a journalist for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Just before Nigeria achieved independence from Britain in 1960, he published his first and most famous novel, Things Fall Apart, describing the colonization of the Igbo people in the 1890s, for which he won the Margaret Wrong Memorial Prize. The book revolutionized the way Westerners saw Africa.


Winning a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1960, he toured Africa for six months, and published his second novel in the Umuofia series, No Longer at Ease, continuing the story of colonization in Umuofia. He married Christie Chinwe Okoli in 1961.


In 1962 he became a founding editor of the African Writers Series for Heinemann Publishers, thus helping to found a modern tradition of African literature. He published Arrow of God in 1964, returning to the story of the tribal ways of the past and how they are compromised by Christianity. A Man of the People in 1966 is a portrait of a corrupt politician in modern Nigeria, published on the eve of an actual coup.


During the war over the attempted secession from Nigeria of Biafra (1967-70), Achebe traveled widely as a spokesman for the suffering Igbo people. During this time he wrote poetry and children’s stories. After the fall of Biafra, he worked at the University of Nigeria and then came to the U. S. in 1972 to be an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In 1975 he joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut. Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), a collection of essays, compares African and European literature. He returned to the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1976 and was appointed a professor emeritus there in 1985. The Trouble with Nigeria was an essay published while he was immersed in Nigerian politics.


In 1987 Achebe published The Anthills of Savannah, about an imaginary country in Africa named Kangan. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Achebe returned to the U. S. in 1987 to teach successively at Dartmouth, Stanford, and Bard College. Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987 examines the racism of the Western understanding of Africa.


In 1990 he became paralyzed from the waist down in a car crash, and in 1994, he had to flee the repressive Nigerian regime that threatened to jail him. Later, he returned to Nigeria to serve as president of the town union of his native village of Ogidi. In 1999, he became goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Population Fund.


Home and Exile, a book of essays published in 2000, tries to rescue African culture from European narratives. In 2007 he won the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement. He has been called, “the father of modern African literature.” Achebe, at the age of 77, currently lives and writes in New York state, and is affiliated with Bard College.

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