Chinua Achebe, Beloved Author Of ‘Things Fall Apart,’ Has Passed Away

The Nigerian Writer Was 82

It’s time to bust out my old copy of Things Fall Apart. Critically acclaimed author Chinua Achebe has passed away at age 82. For those of us who majored in literature, or remember reading Things Fall Apart in high school, this is a great loss. But it’s also a great time to remember one of literature’s most influential writers. Click inside to learn more about the beloved Nigerian author whose novel worked to define an entire canon.

USA Today has the report:

NEW YORK (AP) — Chinua Achebe, the internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident who gave literary birth to modern Africa with Things Fall Apart and continued for decades to rewrite and reclaim the history of his native country, has died. He was 82.

Achebe died following a brief illness, said his agent, Andrew Wylie.

“He was also a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him,” Wylie said.

His eminence worldwide was rivaled only by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and a handful of others. Achebe was a moral and literary model for countless Africans and a profound influence on such American writers as Morrison, Ha Jin and Junot Diaz.

As a Nigerian, Achebe lived through and helped define revolutionary change in his country, from independence to dictatorship to the disastrous war between Nigeria and the breakaway country of Biafra in the late 1960s. He knew both the prestige of serving on government commissions and the fear of being declared an enemy of the state. He spent much of his adult life in the United States, but never stopped calling for democracy in Nigeria or resisting literary honors from a government he refused to accept.

His public life began in his mid-20s. He was a resident of London when he completed his handwritten manuscript for Things Fall Apart, a short novel about a Nigerian tribesman’s downfall at the hands of British colonialists.

Turned down by several publishers, the book was finally accepted by Heinemann and released in 1958 with a first printing of 2,000. Its initial review in The New York Times ran less than 500 words, but the novel soon became among the most important books of the 20th century, a universally acknowledged starting point for postcolonial, indigenous African fiction, the prophetic union of British letters and African oral culture.

“It would be impossible to say how ‘Things Fall Apart’ influenced African writing,” the African scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah once observed. “It would be like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians. Achebe didn’t only play the game, he invented it.”

Things Fall Apart has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages. Achebe also was a forceful critic of Western literature about Africa, especially Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” standard reading for millions, but in Achebe’s opinion, a defining example of how even a great Western mind could reduce a foreign civilization to barbarism and menace.

Sigh. Reading all this takes me back to my former life as a bookworm. Things Fall Apart and Heart Of Darkness were major texts in my literary theory classes, and, well… I miss reading! Like I said, it’s time to look for my copy of Things Fall Apart and get back in the game. Achebe also has many other published works that I’m definitely going to check out.

Here’s hoping Achebe‘s family finds comfort during this difficult time. I’m sure they’ll be surrounded with love and support from family, friends, and strangers the world over.

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  1. Halli

    Ugh, terrible news to hear. I first read Things Fall Apart in 7th grade and then Achebe visited my college campus for a discussion and reading which was amazing. I re-read the book a few years ago. I think it’s going to have to be read again soon. Fantastic book!

    • Halli, you saw him in the flesh?! Amazing. I’m looking forward to re-reading soon; something tells me the experience will be completely different.

  2. Karen

    That his thoughts and the words he used to express them transformed the awareness of people around the globe is just so special. He contributed to my comprehension of Africa before I went there, and I am so grateful to him for that.

    He had these gifts and he shared them far and wide. And what he gave was so necessary. So glad he was here and that he did what he did.

  3. Emily

    Shannon, thanks for reporting this. Huge loss for the literary world, his influence was so great. At least his great works will live on and continue to inspire generations. PS – I’ve always loved saying his name out loud. It’s poetic.

  4. Samantha

    TIme to dust off my old copy and reread. RIP

  5. Wow, I remember reading “Things Fall Apart” in the 10th grade, and it was one of the few ‘required’ readings during my school years that really resonated with me. He undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the literary world. Thank you, Chinua!

    To second Emily, I love saying his name out loud too :)

  6. I only read “Things Fall Apart last year for the first time for my World Literature module and it is such an incredible book. I remember rewriting his name over and over again the night before the exam because I was terrified that I would spell it wrong but then only to realise that the authors’ names were written in the questions! Such sad news but thank you for posting about it, Shannon.

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