World mourns Achebe

END OF AN ERA: ‘Fa­ther of mod­ern African lit­er­a­ture’ dies at 82

Weekend Witness - - News - ESTELLE SINKINS and SAPA-AFP

THE death of cel­e­brated Nige­rian nov­el­ist and poet Chinua Achebe at the age of 82, in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, af­ter a short ill­ness, marks the end of an era.

Con­sid­ered by many to be the fa­ther of mod­ern African lit­er­a­ture, Achebe, who died yes­ter­day, made his name more than 50 years ago with his novel Things Fall Apart, about an African tribe’s fa­tal brush with Bri­tish colo­nial­ism in the 1800s.

The novel, which has been trans­lated into over 50 lan­guages, told the story of colo­nial­ism for the first time from an African per­spec­tive.

Mbon­geni Mal­aba, Pro­fes­sor of English Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal, Pi­eter­mar­itzburg cam­pus, said of Achebe’s work: “The way he wrote about the past and strove for bal­ance was won­der­ful … be­ing a prod­uct of English colo­nial­ism and ed­u­ca­tion, he un­der­stood the cul­ture and through his work he asked that peo­ple should try and un­der­stand cul­tures other than their own.

“The fact that his work was trans­lated into so many Euro­pean and other lan­guages shows that he was able to rep­re­sent Africa to West­ern cul­ture in a way which was eas­ily un­der­stood.

“His death high­lights the end of an era and is a very sad loss for African let­ters, but his work will grant him im­mor­tal­ity. It will be read by count­less gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple.”

The news of Achebe’s death was met with sad­ness by au­thors tak­ing part in the Cen­tre for Cre­ative Arts’ (CCA) Time of the Writer Fes­ti­val in Dur­ban, which ends to­day.

Spokesper­son Kishore Go­bar­dan, di­rec­tor of pro­fes­sional ser­vices at the Col­lege of Hu­man­i­ties at UKZN, de­scribed Achebe as the “au­thor and fa­ther of African lit­er­a­ture whose devel­op­ment of African writ­ing has truly been pro­found.

“Dur­ing this week of cel­e­brat­ing writ­ten tal­ent from South Africa, Africa and the world at the fes­ti­val, the CCA ac­knowl­edges and cel­e­brates a lit­er­ary gi­ant whose works have paved the way for numer­ous oth­ers,” Go­bar­dan said.

Staff at the Cen­tre for African Lit­er­ary Stud­ies (CALS) at UKZN Pi­eter­mar­itzburg were also sad­dened to learn of Achebe’s death.

In a state­ment CALS, which has a large num­ber of Achebe’s works in its col­lec­tion, said: “Achebe’s nov­els are stud­ied widely, as are his short sto­ries, po­etry and es­says.

“More books, ar­ti­cles, study guides, doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tions and master’s the­ses have been pro­duced on his writ­ings than on those of any other African nov­el­ist.”

Achebe’s pub­lisher, Pen­guin Books in the United King­dom, tweeted the fol­low­ing mes­sage af­ter con­firm­ing the au­thor’s death: “Chinua Achebe: a bril­liant writer, and a gi­ant of African lit­er­a­ture. Nel­son Man­dela said he brought Africa to the rest of the world. RIP.”

The Man Booker Prize also used Twit­ter to state that it was “very sad to hear of the pass­ing of the much loved Chinua Achebe”.

The au­thor won the Man Booker In­ter­na­tional Prize in 2007 for his over­all con­tri­bu­tion to fic­tion on the world stage.

One of the judges for the award, South African writer and No­bel lau­re­ate Na­dine Gordimer called Achebe the “fa­ther of mod­ern African lit­er­a­ture”; and in a state­ment from the Nel­son Man­dela Cen­tre for Me­mory, former pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela called him the writer in “whose com­pany the prison walls came down”.

Ex­press­ing his con­do­lences, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma said: “Chinua Achebe was Nigeria and in­deed Africa’s great­est lit­er­ary ex­port and a le­gend of African lit­er­a­ture.

“It was in his fa­mous novel Things Fall Apart that many Africans saw them­selves in lit­er­a­ture and arts at the time when most of the writ­ing was about Africans, but not by Africans.” Nige­rian au­thor and poet, Chinua Achebe, has died at the age of 82.

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