Acclaimed Nigerian writer and Professor of Africana Studies Chinua Achebe was awarded the 2010 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize at a ceremony at the Hudson Theatre in New York City Wednesday evening.
The prize is one of the highest honors in the arts and is awarded each year to an individual who has "made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life," according to the provisions of Lillian Gish's will that created of the prize.
The prize comes with a $300,000 award and a silver medallion.
"When I was a boy, growing up in Nigeria, becoming a novelist was a far-away dream," Achebe said in a Gish Prize press release. "Now it is a reality for many African writers, not just myself. The Gish Prize recognizes the long journey my fellow colleagues and I have taken, and I am proud and grateful for that."
Achebe joined the faculty in September 2009 after 19 years at Bard College. His novel "Things Fall Apart," published in 1958, is regarded as one of the premier works of African fiction. It has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages, according to a Gish Prize press release.
"It is without doubt that Achebe's remarkable career perfectly fits the intent of the award for an ‘unprecedented impact in literature,' " wrote Tricia Rose MA'87 PhD'93, professor of Africana studies and chair of the department, in an e-mail to The Herald. "I am thrilled that his long and distinguished career is being honored in this way."
The Gish Prize selection committee, which consists of five people, chose Achebe from about 1,500 nominees, said Pamela Johnson, the Gish Prize administrator. "It's unusual in the way we do this," she said about the committee's selection procedure. "There is a lively discussion, and then a selection process by ballot chooses the recipient."
Achebe has written more than 20 books, including novels and collections of poetry, short stories and essays. He served as editor of the African Writers Series, which introduced post-colonial literature from Africa to a broad audience, and has started magazines for African fiction, art and poetry, according to the press release.
At Brown, Achebe heads the Achebe Colloquium on Africa, an initiative that promotes a greater appreciation for African culture. Achebe has won many other significant awards, including the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction in 2007.
"It's certainly a significant tribute to the contributions Chinua Achebe has made," said Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn, who attended the "intimate, simple yet elegant" award ceremony at the Hudson Theatre. "We're certainly honored to have a member of our community be honored in such a prestigious way."
The Gish Prize is administered by JPMorgan Chase & Co., which serves as the award's trustee. Past winners of the Gish Prize include Frank Gehry, Robert Redford, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.