University News

Famed Nigerian writer Achebe joins faculty

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Correction appended.

Internationally renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe has joined the University faculty as the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and a professor of Africana Studies. Though his appointment is already effective, he will take over his full responsibilities in the spring semester, said Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose PhD ’93, who chairs the department.

Achebe, who joins Brown after 19 years on the Bard College faculty, “won’t be offering independent new courses of his own,” Rose said.

The main “vehicle by which he’ll be making an intellectual contribution” will be through the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa, a new initiative focused on Achebe’s “intellectual, pedagogical and artistic works,” Rose said. Achebe may also teach or co-teach courses already offered by the Africana department and give presentations in Africana classes, she said.

Achebe is the fourth “distinguished writer of world significance” to join the Africana Studies faculty and the only one of the four from Africa, Rose said. Because the department’s work is a “wonderful combination of thought and practice,” Achebe’s appointment will be a “profound consolidation of existing strengths,” she added.

“Things Fall Apart,” Achebe’s 1958 novel, is the most widely-read work of African fiction, according to a University press release. Since Africana studies is a relatively young department, adding such an important figure “covers — in one stroke — a lot of ground,” said Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P’07.

The colloquium will host one major event each spring and several smaller events each year, Rose said. This spring, the colloquium is set to host a series of events based around dramatic readings of Achebe’s major works. The following spring, the plan is to host a “seminar slash conference on governance in Africa,” Rose said.

Since Achebe is already a central figure in Africana studies, the colloquium will bring scholars to Brown “who work on a wide array of issues — not only in literature — but also politics in contemporary Africa,” Vohra said.

Achebe is also interested in beginning a project to translate “classic texts in European literature” into Igbo, Achebe’s native language, Rose said.

Though Achebe will not teach full-time, the Africana department is “very interested in making sure that people will have regular access to him,” Rose said. She suggested the possibility of regular office hours for students who have expressed knowledge of or interest in Achebe’s fields of study.

Achebe’s appointment, which “happened very quickly,” is an example of what the University’s Target of Opportunity hiring program was intended for, Vohra said. “The program was meant to do precisely this kind of thing — that is, allow us to make quick decisions when an opportunity arose of this kind,” Vohra said.

Discussions about hiring Achebe began in June, and the decision was finalized last week, Rose said.

It has not been discussed whether Achebe’s wife, Christie Achebe — a visiting professor at Bard — will also be hired at Brown, Rose said. “We are more than happy to discuss that with her,” she added.

The University will hold a welcoming event for Achebe on Nov. 10, Rose said, which will feature his newest book, “The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays.”

Achebe, who is paralyzed from the waist down, has not finalized arrangements for where he will live during his time at Brown, Rose said. “My expectation is that he’ll be around in some regularized way by the end of this semester, but surely by the beginning of next semester,” Rose said. “He’s dying to be physically located here.”

An article in Wednesday’s Herald (“Famed Nigerian writer joins faculty,” Sept. 16) incorrectly quoted Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose PhD’93. Chinua Achebe, David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana Studies, is not the only African writer in the Department of Africana Studies. In fact, there are two African writers in the department: Achebe and Visiting Professor of Africana Studies and Creative Writing Ama Ata Aidoo, from Ghana.