There was a (rare) man…: An Achebe Obituary

by Cheta Nwanze

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe addresses the Steve Biko memorial ceremony in Cape Town on  the 25th..

Chinualumogu Albert Achebe was born in Ogidi, in Eastern Nigeria on November 16, 1930 to Isaiah and Janet Achebe.

He attended St. Philips’ Central School, Ogidi from 1936 until 1942 when he moved to Nekede to attend the Central School there. While in Nekede, Achebe began to appreciate Igbo culture a lot more, and this appreciation, gained during a time of great cultural upheaval all over the new country of Nigeria, shaped a lot of his views in later life.

In 1944, the young Achebe was accepted at the most prestigious secondary school in Eastern Nigeria at the time, Government College, Umuahia. The rigorous standards of that institution shaped Achebe’s intellectual discipline, and he was quickly marked out as a star of the future. IN his first year, he received a double-promotion, and completed Class One and Two in just one year. While he did not excel at sports in Umuahia, Achebe found his forte in the school’s library, and there he was introduced to the wonderful world of literature, spending his afternoons with such giants as Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, Robert Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan and Booker T. Washington.

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After spending just four years in secondary school as opposed to the standard five, Achebe proceeded, for the first time out of Eastern Nigeria, to the University College, Ibadan. Though initially admitted to study Medicine, the young Chinua pursued his passion and changed his major to English, also adding History and Theology, and losing his scholarship in the process. His high marks however got him a small government bursary, with his family making up the rest.

In 1950, Achebe wrote his first published work, “Polar Undergraduate”. This satirical piece about his classmates was followed by a lot of other essays, mainly published in the University College’s magazine, The Herald, a magazine that he became editor of, for a year, in 1951. While he was editing The Herald, Achebe began to question European literature about Africa, and started asking himself why Africans could not tell their stories, especially given our own deep knowledge about our culture. He returned to Ogidi in 1953 after receiving a Second Class Upper from the University College.

Chinua Achebe took up a job at a school in Oba, close to Ogidi and was there for four months before moving to Lagos in early 1954 to work at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service. In 1956, he was selected to go to London to take part in the BBC’s Staff School, and it was there that he began to work on what was to become his greatest piece.

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On his return to Nigeria, Chinua completed Things Fall Apart, which was published in 1958 by Heinemann in London. Donald MacRae, and educational advisor with Heinemann labelled it “the best novel I have read since the war”. Things Fall Apart has gone on to sell over 8 million copies, and has been translated into 56 languages.

Achebe was transferred by the NBS to Enugu in 1958, and there he met Christie Okoli. They were married in 1961 and are blessed with three children, Chinelo, their first child, a girl, and two boys, Ikechukwu and Chidi.

Comments (3)

  1. A great man, through and through

  2. What a genius!!! May your soul rest in peace Chinua Achebe. Though you’re dead your legacies lives on.

  3. Chinua the great icon and educationist fare well. May gentle soul rest in peace.

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