Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ode Mkpishi Chinua Achebe (1930-2013): Our Literary Hero Exits


Richard von Weizaecker (L), former German President, congratulates Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, after Achebe was awarded the prestigious Peace Prize of the German publishing industry at the Paul's Church in Frankfurt/Main, 13 October 2002. With the peace prize he was honored as 'one of the most forceful and at the same time most subtle voices of Africa in 20th century literature'. Image: Frank May/DPA

Chinelo, Nwando, Ikechukwu and Chidi. Ngozi. The entire Achebe family. Ndo nu o!

I had engaged my friend, Dr. Elemi John Agbomi in series of our usual intellectual discourses on a fabricated national state, who never stops telling me stories of his encounter and combat during the Nigeria-Biafra war; who is fond of talking about Ode Mkpishi Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" and how "they" all got into it during his high school years at Government College, Afikpo, in the 60s; and who has been a very good friend over the years before dabbling into the social media on Friday, March 22, 2013, to read the widespread news that Ode Mkpishi Achebe is gone.


Much is known and has already been written about Africa's literary giant Ode Mkpishi Achebe who died Thursday night, March 21, 2013 in Boston at the age of 82. Much has been said about the man known to have reshaped the African literary landscape. And people have overwhelmingly given the literary icon lots of tribute. All major newspapers wrote a tribute to the literary icon whose novel "Things Fall Apart" is now in over 50 languages.

I was not sure if there was any more stuff one could pick from Achebe's stables since his last book "Anthills of the Savannah" published in 1987, depicting the West African country of Kangan until my colleague at the BNW News Magazine told me the Chinua Achebe Colloquium Projects would commence publishing at the site and its sister links, as the directors of the projects would be forwarding every episode in order to reach its desired audiences and readers. Yes, all the interviews conducted by journalists and folks Ode Mkpishi Achebe had assigned for the interviews including the symposiums and related articles that came along with it, begun the awareness for me that Ode Mkpishi Achebe still got game and has been on the radar to stay on with his ideals by way of network to finding solution on a case load of problems within the African continent.

As it turned out, the colloquium was held annually to bring together scholars, leaders and folks from all walks of life to exchange ideas on "strengthening democracy and peace" all around the African continent.

I had begun penning what may have been some of the reasons why the Nobel Academy had kept Achebe waiting for its grand prize in Literature until one of those out of the blue got to take care of projects halted it. I had intended publishing it before what we are now hearing that the storyteller who was fond of recalling societal ills in Nigeria is gone.

The Nobel had become for Achebe what the Biafran War had been for some not heard of names that battled until Biafra surrendered and yet nobody mentioned their names in the books on how gallantly they committed their lives towards the realism of a Biafran national state.

Like the plot from "Anthills of the Savannah," which in my opinion was second closest to "Things Fall Apart" if Nobel had decided to honoring Achebe's work in literature. Achebe, here, describes the political situation through the experiences of three friends who had been in collaboration and the assassination of an editor critical of a regime. The trend of coup after coup and assassinations that is the trademark of military juntas.

I'm sure no one who had known Achebe would doubt that the brilliant, proud, ultra-competitive and astoundingly a great writer had wished many things had worked out in his lifetime based on his lamentations of Nigeria's social ills, coupled with the most corrupt state in practice. He also would have loved to win the prize that no Nigerian novelist has won since Wole Soyinka in 1986. He also would have loved a successful leadership on the African continent, especially in his native Igbo land where the current crop of leaders have not learned from the previous leaders, from their brilliant successes and their disastrous mistakes in transforming organizations and communities, setting examples by communal leads, by ethical imperatives and by willing to take risks.

Achebe was one of a kind. His books called the shots.

Amazing thoughts. A beautiful mind.

The Chinua Achebe Colloquium defined him. In finding how the colloquium had been measuring up and doing what it was suppose to be doing by its standards, I interviewed his son Chidi, who practices medicine out of Boston and who is also the President and CEO of the Harvard Street Health Center regarding his dad's projects and whether it's still vibrant. Chidi Achebe responds:

It is going very well. A former United States ambassador to Nigeria described the annual gathering as “the best intellectual gathering focusing on Africa in the world.” The annual colloquium brings together an international group of scholars, officials from African governments, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and other organizations for two days of intense deliberation and exchange of ideas on the importance of strengthening democracy and peace on the African continent.

We all read him while growing up, and continued to read him when we became who we now are, and, still reading him. He was master storyteller. He was intelligent. He was proud. He was an enigmatic literary giant.

He was untra-competitive and unquestionably self-absorbed human being and author.

Okonkwo, the typical Igbo man and pigheadedness in "Things Fall Apart."

His Excellency, Chris Oriko, Beatrice Okoh, Ikem Osodi, Elewa, Major Ossai in "Anthills of the Savannah."

He wrote numerous books and authored uncountable articles -- "Winds of Change: Modern Short Stories From Black Africa," "How The Leopard Got His Claws," "Hopes And Impediments," "Home And Exile," "The Trouble With Nigeria," "Morning Yet On Creation Day," "Beware Soul Brother," "Girls At War And Other Stories," "Arrow Of God," "A Man Of The People," "Chike And The River," "No Longer At ease," "The Sacrificial Egg And Other Stories," "Anthills Of The Savannah," "Things Fall Apart," "The Education Of A British Protected Child: Essays," and as the list goes on and on, and on -- in which most recalled the social ills of a continent, his country and in particular, his native Igbo land, Achebe never stopped writing with sustained accuracy regarding a  continent's woes and never ending tragedy.

Achebe was fun to read; storytelling that was baked in his genes, ingrained and plausible no amount of detox could remove. It got us all hooked.

He had his pen and he used it very well to the point military drunks obsessed with dictatorial tendencies came after him to find out which had more firepower -- his pen or the guns of the juntas.

He wrote fearlessly and took no prisoners, presenting to his readers the simple truth on what had erupted as national crisis when bribery and corruption had taken the place of what supposedly should have been a transparent and accountable government in a democratic fabric.

He wrote extensively to near exhaustion on problems grand and small which had overwhelmingly clouded a country full of leaders of mischief in what is called Nigeria.

He will be missed!




Africa's phenomenal intellectuals Ali Mazrui (L) and Chinua Achebe share jokes at the Chinua Achebe Colloquium at Brown University in Rhodes Island. The colloquium is held annually to bring together scholars and officials to exchange ideas on strenghtening democracy and peace on the African continent. Image: Brown University.



Chinua Achebe chats with former South African President Nelson Mandela at a Steve Biko memorial ceremony in Cape Town on the 25th anniversary of the activists death in police custody, September 12, 2002. Biko, a leader of the Black Conciousness movement, died after being beaten by members of Apartheid's security police in 1977.  Image: Mile Hutchings/Reuters



 

Chinua Achebe participates in the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature.  Location: New York. Date: April 26, 2006. Image: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center/ZUMA Press





Chinua Achebe, famous for his novels describing the effects of Western customs and values on traditional African society. Achebe's satire and his keen ear for spoken language  made him one of the most highly esteemed African writers in English. Location: London, UK. Date: May 21, 1970. Image: Keystone Pictures, USA



Chinua Achebe speaks about his works and his life at his home on the campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York where he is a professor. Date: January 22, 2008. Image: Craig Ruttle/Associated Press


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