University News

Chinua Achebe, professor and celebrated writer, dies at 82

The Nigerian writer of "Things Fall Apart" hosted an annual colloquium about African issues

By and
Staff Writer and Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 22, 2013

Professor of Africana Studies and Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe died Thursday night in Boston.

Renowned Nigerian writer and Professor of Africana Studies Chinua Achebe died the evening of March 21, multiple national news sources reported. He was 82.

Achebe died in Boston, according to a University press release.

The author of “Things Fall Apart” and other literary works, Achebe joined the University faculty in 2009. He was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University in 1998.

In addition to his fiction, Achebe authored numerous pieces of literary criticism, including his essay “An Image of Africa,” in which he argued that Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” reduces Africa to a barbaric land perilous to European civilization.

“It’s truly a loss for the family particularly as well as for the department and the Brown community,” said Corey Walker, associate professor and chair of Africana Studies. “But more importantly, it’s a loss to the entire world because, truly, Professor Achebe was a gift to all of us.”

There will be a University-wide memorial service planned in “consultation and collaboration with a broad number of actors,” Walker said.

Achebe hosted the annual Achebe Colloquium on Africa, an event aimed to foster University discussion on issues pertaining to his home continent.

The most recent colloquium was held in December and focused on issues of governance, peace and security across Africa, The Herald previously reported. The colloquium aimed to “highlight Africa’s great complexity and beauty while analyzing its challenges,” Achebe wrote in an email to The Herald at the time. Previous colloquia addressed topics such as the Arab Spring, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Achebe’s home country of Nigeria.

“The colloquia he organized at Brown attracted a grand array of guests and effectively demonstrated how the humanities can build understanding by drawing from and encouraging a variety of perspectives,” said President Christina Paxson in the press release. “We were honored to have him among us.”

Walker said the University will decide whether to have future colloquia “at the appropriate time.”

“I am honored to write in a tradition which (Achebe) invented,” Professor of Africana Studies and Literary Arts John Wideman said at an official welcome for Achebe in November 2009, The Herald previously reported.

Former Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98 called Achebe “Africa’s foremost cultural ambassador” at the same event.

But Achebe told The Herald in 2009 that he objected to being referred to as “the father of modern African literature.”

“It’s really a serious belief (of mine) that it’s risky for anyone to lay claim to something as huge and important as African literature,” Achebe said at the time. “I don’t want to be singled out as the one behind it because there were many of us — many, many of us.”

The Department of Africana Studies offered AFRI 1060P: “African Literature: Chinua Achebe” in spring 2010 — a class that focused on Achebe’s major works of fiction and criticism. Though Achebe attended just two classes during the course of the semester, Jessica Bendit ’12, who took the class, told The Herald in 2011 that his “presence was felt.” She said his involvement was “an incredible honor” that allowed her to connect with his writing in a more meaningful way.

Though Achebe did not regularly teach undergraduates, students said he still impacted them. Dominic Mhiripiri ’13, a former Herald opinions columnist, told the Associated Press that a conversation with Achebe in November about his desire to become a writer inspired him to work on a book of short stories.

“I have heard encouraging news about what the community has done, and I want to encourage them further to go on and make friends with the world,” Achebe told The Herald in 2009. “That’s really where our hope is — peace and harmony in the world, peace and harmony among thinkers.”

 

Last updated April 1 at 1:25 a.m.