Sunday, 31 March 2013

Chinua Achebe… Still celebrating the passing of iconic writer, humanist

By Anote Ajeluorou

The passing into ancestry of Africa and world-renowned author and political activist has left the writerly race still reeling from so tremendous a loss. What has emerged is the unrestrained outpouring of emotions from all spectrums of the human divide. From among Nigerian writers, Prof. Achebe is indeed another flight of the eagle on the iroko into celestial abode, nay, into ancestral council where he will still preside over the race of writers, his children whom he left behind to continue in the creative path he charted for them to follow.
  Among those who continued to pour their heartfelt, celebratory emotions include erudite poet and Distinguished Professor of English at New Orleans University, Niyi Osundare, poet and essayist, Remi Raji-Oyelade, poet and activist, Ogaga Ifowodo, king and novelist, Chukuemeka Ike, essayist, Olúwáfirópò Ewénlá, novelist, publisher and book convention organiser, Dilibe Onyeama and novelist and teacher, J.O.J. Nwachukwu-Agbada.

Prof. Niyi Osundare (poet, essayist and Distinguished Professor of English, University of New Orleans, U.S.)

Chinua Achebe: Death, where are thy claws?

Chinua Achebe is one of those epically unique individuals whose lives have been so full, so purposive and so impactful that we begin to pray that they will never die. But who doesn't know that that is mere wishful thinking? To be sure, the Eagle on Iroko didn't die young, but he left when we still need him urgently and acutely. He has gone, but he left so much of, by, himself behind...
  Achebe shook up the literary world with Things Fall Apart when he was barely in his late twenties. He told Africa's story and gave humanity a song. Since that day in 1958 when that epochal novel intruded upon the world to this very day, hardly any week has passed without the author's name being mentioned somewhere in this world of books and ideas.
  But if the sheer force and range of Achebe's fiction gave Africa a voice, the fearless truth of his critical interventions challenged so many myths and deliberate falsehoods about the most misrepresented and recklessly abused continent in the world. Achebe knew, and he tried to get us to know, that Africans will remain mere objects of the stories told by others, until they, Africans,  have started to tell their own story their own way - without shutting out the rest of the world. Achebe challenged the 20th century philosophy of fiction as a pretty object d'art, arriving with works, which foregrounded the human condition and told the wondering world that the clotheless Emperor was, indeed, naked! He entered a plea for the urgent necessity of an entity called 'applied art' and emboldened us to look triumphalist Formalism in the face and demand to see its passport. Yes, Achebe told a world sold to the art-for-art's-sake mystique that it is, indeed, possible to be an accomplished novelist who is also a teacher.
  Controversy hardly ever parts company with a writer and thinker of his brand. He took almost as much criticism as he gave; for he was a man who never ran from a fight.
  The world celebrates the LIFE of this distinguished story-teller and thinker. (Yes, celebrate, for to mourn is to concede supremacy to Death - and Oblivion, its Mephistophelean factotum).
  Rest well, Chinualomogu. Rest well, Obierika, the man who thought about things. Posterity will never let you die. We regret your passing. We celebrate your Life.

Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade (Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan; President,
Association of Nigerian Authors and poet)

Here in Germany, phone calls and questions about the truth of the passing of the grand patron and first President and Trustee of ANA jolted me into disbelief.
  Chinua Achebe, foremost African thinker, hugely popular on the strength of his revolutionary novel and the other seminal prose works he produced over five decades, Chinua Achebe, the absolute and consummate prose maestro is no more. His name, alongside others of his generation, was key to accessing the world literary stage.
  Here was a man who chose the profession of writing early and above the more fashionable or prestigious calling of the medical profession. A pioneer student of the Ibadan school of creative writing, a dogged and unyielding fighter to the very end, and a true mentor to a generation of writers across the world.
  Even in my country now, the fact of his death is dissolving into reality. Eagle on Iroko, the master-artist, the compelling stylist of the English language has left the world of the flesh, he left in the middle of a revived discourse of the fate of our Nigerian nation.
  And it was a symbolic day. In the commemoration of the UNESCO World Poetry Day, things fell apart in the firmament of Nigerian and African Literature. A bleak day indeed, the devastating reality, the ending of a huge chapter in the history of African Literature. 
  Adieu Chinua Achebe, adieu irreplaceable son of Africa!

Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo (Poet and Assistant Professor of English, Texas State University, U.S.)

Achebe on his Transfiguration into Ancestordom

The news of Achebe's transfiguration into an ancestral spirit reached us in Charleston, North Carolina, in the middle of this year's annual meeting of the African Literature Association (ALA). As is to be expected, we -- writers, critics, publishers, readers -- were thrown into deep mourning. But we mourned with one hand drying tears and the other waving jubilantly to Achebe's spirit, looking even more resplendent dressed for his triumphant entry into ancestordom, beaming benevolently at us as he bid us farewell.
  At 7 PM last night, all the participants gathered to pay homage to a Titan of world -- note, I said world, not merely African -- literature.
  I first read Achebe as a twelve-year-old at Federal Government College, Warri. It was appropriate, I think, that my introduction to the fabled Achebe-lore, was through Chike and the River, a story for children replete with magic (for good measure, it has a character named Professor Chandus), curiosity and dream, all borne of the self-enlarging wish not to remain in one place; of the desire to avoid the mind-numbing that comes with an inability to imagine other places and their ways of being in the world.
  Because I read the imperishable Things Fall Apart two years later, as any of the works of the three others of the Fabulous Four of Nigerian literature -- Christopher Okigbo, J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka -- it is clear to me that Achebe had the earliest shaping influence on my desire to become a writer. The magic of story-telling, of creating imaginary worlds and making them rival the real world in plausibility, had cast its spell on me and even though I didn't know it at the time, I would never want to be free of it!
  Achebe's exit, like the fall of an iroko, denudes our socio-cultural landscape: the grass is exposed and thinner, the leaves are less green, but I take solace in the fact that further down in the forest are other irokos; that Achebe, now an ancestor is an even more potent force for regeneration. If I have any lament, an inconsolable grief, it is that Achebe died in exile. And, worse, that The Trouble with Nigeria, the conditions that led to "one of the greatest sons of the land" dying so far away from home twenty-two years after he was crippled in a road accident and became bound to a wheelchair have not changed for the better by a jot. Indeed, that they have grown even worse with no promise of a halt to the slide into a state ruled by a buccaneer ruling class defined by two words only: ineptitude and corruption.
  Still, I rejoice in having a literary father such as Achebe, sitting now on his hallowed stool among the ancestors. I trust Christopher Okigbo is crying tears of the laughter of reunion at this moment!

Eze Prof. Chukuemeka Ike (renowned author and Ikelionwu XI, Eze Ikelionwu, Anambra State)

Chinua was phenomenal. We met are Government College, Umuahia and although he and Chike Momah were one year ahead of me, we struckc up a friendship that was a lasting lifetime brotherhood thereafter. Chinua inspired my desire to write and write well. He was always honest and his integrity was reflected in all he did. Chinua is truly brilliant, an international role model and icon. He was a lovely person, a caring friend and mentor to many.
  To his family, he was the ideal husband, father and grandfather, as well as the good uncle, brother and son. We shall all miss this great citizen of the world whom we are proud to have shared the same nationality with. We will always celebrate Achebe the icon as his inimitable works continue to enrich our world for centuries to come.

Olúwáfirópò Ewénlá (Poet, essayist and Secretary, PEN Nigeria Centre)

Achebe lives forever even in death

We at PEN Nigeria Centre are shocked to hear the news of the death of Chinua Achebe who even after this transition is very much an icon of the Nigerian literati. Sad as we are at this rude news, we are comforted that he lived a life worthy of emulation in the ideals he and his works stand for. Our body of poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists, all extended children of Chinua Achebe, commiserate with his immediate family and the clan of writers all over the world.
  Achebe represents one of the brightest sources of inspiration for young and old writers across the world of literature. His ideals, the greatest assets he has bequeathed to us, will be cherished forever. It is our plan to, in the nearest future, join other well meaning Nigerians and international body of writers to immortalize him.
  It is our prayer that the spirit of life eternal will guide his departed soul.

Dilibe Onyeama (author, publisher and convener, Coal City Book Convention)

Chinua Achebe was outstanding in more ways than one. Despite the agony of a near-fatal accident that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life off-shore, he remained in high spirits and kept pushing that prolific pen with great vigour and liveliness of mind, and the world bowed to his every literary output. He was never a mere armchair critic of world events. When he was in Nigeria and able to walk, he sought to demonstrate in practical terms his disenchantment with his motherland by going out into the political campaign trail, albeit not with the desired results. So with his literary tour de force The Trouble with Nigeria, he did with the pen what he could not do on the campaign trail.
  Diplomacy, though a globally-recognized essential for social interaction, was not Achebe's watch-word. He believed in the power of truth and hurled it with as much passion as his written words, and some, especially the Yoruba of Nigeria, were not too comfortable about it, as they were often his target. He was not daunted by the power of government, and rejected with contempt the two separate attempts by the Federal Government of Nigeria to glorify him with a National Honour for cogent reasons that he was not afraid to voice out.
  Achebe was a highly principled man, and the world loved him for it. He recorded a 'first' by being the pioneer author of a subject that addressed the challenges of a traditional African society in the painful throes of transition, and became Africa's biggest selling author as a result. That, of course, was his first oeuvre Things Fall Apart. He has inspired many authors, and his Igbo people have been blessed with many promising pen pushers who will follow in the trail that he has blazed. He was the founding father of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Nigeria's apex literary association. So many Nigerian authors have a lot to be grateful to him for. Well-lived, great storyteller!

Prof. J.O.J.Nwachukwu-Agbada (Novelist and teacher at Abia State University, Uturu)

Professor Chinua Achebe’s death is a hard pill to swallow. Not that I had thought he would not die. What I had thought and wished him was a death into ripe old age like a Winston Churchill, a CLR James, a Du Bois, a Ronald Reagan, an Azikiwe, a Mandela or as I write, an M. H. Abrams who clocked a hundred years last August, and is still counting. We have just been reading and re-reading his last book, There was a Country, an artistic tour de force, when the sad news came. From hindsight, it would seem that he had written the book as a valediction, somewhat aware that it was going to be his last offering. The controversy the book generated camouflaged its aesthetic delight as a creative statement, notwithstanding that it is non-fiction.
  Achebe operated at many levels in the course of his life. He was a pioneer articulator of his people’s way of life, artist par excellence, creator, critic, teacher, leader, organizer, politician and activist, to mention these few preoccupations. His novels and writings sought to restore not just the dignity of the African but also that of the denigrated man-in-the-universe, wherever such a mythical beast resided. He was an active Nigerian, keen to observe his country’s foibles, and being unsatisfied, vented his spleen on her poor performance. He contributed immensely as an educationist, he having created and taught African Literature at home and abroad. Not only did he establish the Association of Nigerian Authors in 1981, he equally operated at the clan level for many years as the President-General of the Ogidi Town Union. A case of backward integration, one could say. He was thoroughly a man of culture.
  Chinua Achebe will not be forgotten in a hurry. Even if we want to do so as we normally do, his writings and his numerous quotable quotes will not allow us. We will not forget him because he returned our humanity to us taken away by the deliberate subjugation of our ‘civilizers’. I dare say that the emergence of the Obamas into world reckoning had something to do with the assertive triumph of African literature, of which Achebe’s authorship marched right in front. He didn’t work alone though; he ‘sired’ many writers who could either be identified as his ‘sons’ or his ‘daughters’ – to cite Nnolim. Even where some of them disagreed with him, particularly his misunderstood portrayal of femininity, they turned out victims of ‘anxiety of influence’, his influence. Achebe’s death marks the end of an era, and the beginning of another. His place is well assured in African literary history!

Committee for Relevant Art
Achebe: The African Perspective in the Global Conversation

The Committee For Relevant Art (CORA) commiserates with the family of Professor Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian arts community as well as the entire nation on the occasion of the death of the man deservedly referred to as ‘the father of the African Novel’ and founder of the Association Of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
  Everything about Achebe’s career was geared towards contributing the African perspective to the global conversation on humanity’s ways of being. First, his Things Fall Apart (TFA), published in 1958, when he was 28, was the first novel to engage with European colonialism from an African perspective. The story spoke to an international audience.
  As he worked on his second novel, Achebe took some time to bringing, into the literary pantheon, a vast number of other young, talented African writers through the African Writers Series, which he edited for Heinemann of London. He was always about us doing things in our own way.
  Achebe led the way in the campaign for robust, world class, indigenous publishing. With the phenomenal success of TFA which gave him enormous influence over the British-owned Heinemann’s Africa Writers Series, and three other successful novels, Achebe could, by 1971, demand that his books would henceforth be published, first by a Nigerian publisher, from whom a reprint could be requested by any British or American publisher. Granted, a tradition of request for rights to books from Nigerian publishers, by overseas publishing houses, had been established much earlier – the throbbing literary scene in Ibadan in the 1960s provided the impetus for foreign publishers to have a look in and buy rights to works of the emerging writers of that period, from the Mbari Club (which doubled as a society and a publisher) – but Achebe returned from the civil war certain that homegrown Nigerian publishing ‘will make its way in the world’. 
  It is that same lifelong pursuit of ‘our own thing for us’, that propelled his invitation of Nigerian writers to Nsukka, in 1981, to reconvene the body of writers now known as ANA.
  The almost unanimous expression of grief by the entire nation at Achebe’s death, coming so soon after the frenetic debates over certain facts and opinions contained in his last book, the memoir There Was A Country, shows that, while opinions might be divided on the literary icon’s recollection of Nigerian history, his place in the pantheon of our men of ideas and ideals remain undiminished in the estimation of an appreciative people.
  The Committee understands the grief that the family, the community of artists and the entire nation are going through. We share the feeling of loss and mourn the passing away of this true icon of the contemporary arts of Nigeria. We know that he is resting in peace.

Prof. Dan Izevbaye (teacher and foremost literary critic)

The death of Achebe at 82 is certainly a painful event and a loss for everyone. Every African - or rather everyone who was once politically or mentally colonized - is indebted to Achebe for he, perhaps more than anyone else, has contributed to the liberating content and style in the literary education of the colonized - as well as the colonizer. Once upon a time, for example, did everyone not agree with the critics that "Heart of Darkness" was the greatest short story in the English language until Achebe said, ‘Not so’, and showed why, in his novels?
  The death of a great author at any age is a great loss. What gives the news of Achebe's death its painful edge is his heroic endurance of all those years in a wheelchair, and the needless controversy that dogged the last work of a writer whose life and works had been uncontroversial. All that is now behind him. He lives on in his works. The pleasure they give and their liberating effect are his memorial.

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