World mourns Achebe
END OF AN ERA: ‘Father of modern African literature’ dies at 82
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.