Life and Times of Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013)


Born in Nigeria in 1930, Chinua Achebe attended the University of Ibadan.


In 1958, his groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart was published. It has since sold more than 12 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages. Achebe is currently the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Chinua Achebe (fully Albert Chinualumogu Achebe) was born on November 16, 1930, in eastern Nigeria, in the Igbo town of Ogidi. After he was educated (in English) at the University of Ibadan, Achebe taught briefly before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as director of external broadcasting (1961–1966).

Just prior to joining NBC, Achebe saw his first novel published, 1958’s Things Fall Apart. The groundbreaking novel centers on the cultural clash between native African culture and the traditional white culture of missionaries and the colonial government in place in Nigeria. An unflinching look at the discord, the book was a startling success and has become required reading in many schools across the world.

1960s and 1970s

The 1960s proved to be a creatively fertile period for Achebe, and he wrote the novels No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) and A Man of the People (1966), all of which address the issue of traditional ways of life coming into conflict with new, often colonial, points of view. (Anthills of the Savannah [1987] took on a similar theme.) In a related endeavor, in 1967, Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo, a renowned poet, cofounded a publishing company, the Citadel Press, which they intended to run as an outlet for a new kind of African-oriented children’s books. Okigbo was soon killed, however, in the Nigerian civil war. Two years later, Achebe toured the United States with Gabriel Okara and Cyprian Ekwensi, fellow writers, giving lectures at various universities. The 1960s also marked Achebe’s wedding to Christie Chinwe Okoli in 1961, and they went on to have four children.

When he returned to Nigeria from the United States, Achebe became a research fellow and later a professor of English (1976–1981) at the University of Nigeria. During this time he also served as director of two Nigerian publishing houses, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd.

On the writing front, the 1970s proved equally productive, and Achebe published several collections of short stories and a children’s book, How the Leopard Got His Claws (1973). Also coming out at this time were Beware, Soul-Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973), both poetry collections, and Achebe’s first book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975). While back in the United States in 1975, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Achebe gave a lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” in which Achebe asserted that Conrad’s famous novel dehumanizes Africans. The work referred to Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist,” and, when published in essay form, it went on to become a seminal postcolonial African work.


The year 1987 would mark the release of Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, which was shortlisted for the Booker McConnell Prize. The following year he published Hopes and Impediments (1988), but the 1990s began with tragedy as Achebe was in a car accident in Nigeria that left him paralyzed from the waist down and would confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Soon after, he moved to the United States and taught at Bard College, just north of New York City, where he remained for 15 years. In 2009 Achebe left Bard to join the faculty of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Chinua Achebe has won several awards over the course of his writing career, among them the Man Booker International Prize (2007) and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2010). He has also received honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world.


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