To Get Personalised contents and be able to add items to your favourites, please Sign In or Sign Up          

Chinua Achebe (Biograhy)

Encyclopedia » Biography » Authors/Writer





Early life

Chinua was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in the Igbo village of Ogidi on November 16, 1930. Isaiah Okafo Achebe and Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam Achebe stood at a crossroads of traditional culture and Christian influence; this made a significant impact on the children, especially Chinualumogu. After the youngest daughter was born, the family moved to Isaiah Achebe's ancestral town of Ogidi, in what is now the state of Anambra.



 Achebe's homeland, the Igbo region (sometimes called Ibo), lies in the central south.

Storytelling was a mainstay of the Igbo tradition and an integral part of the community. Chinua's mother and sister Zinobia Uzoma told him many stories as a child, which he repeatedly requested. His education was furthered by the collages his father hung on the walls of their home, as well as almanacs and numerous books – including a prose adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream (c. 1590) and an Igbo version of The Pilgrim's Progress (1678).[8][9] Chinua also eagerly anticipated traditional village events, like the frequent masquerade ceremonies, which he recreated later in his novels and stories


In 1936, Achebe entered St Philips' Central School. Despite his protests, he spent a week in the religious class for young children, but was quickly moved to a higher class when the school's chaplain took note of his intelligence. One teacher described him as the student with the best handwriting in class, and the best reading skills. He also attended Sunday school every week and the special evangelical services held monthly, often carrying his father's bag. A controversy erupted at one such session, when apostates from the new church challenged the catechist about the tenets of Christianity. Achebe later included a scene from this incident in Things Fall Apart.

At the age of twelve, Achebe moved away from his family to the village of Nekede, four kilometres from Owerri. He enrolled as a student at the Central School, where his older brother John taught. In Nekede, Achebe gained an appreciation for Mbari, a traditional art form which seeks to invoke the gods' protection through symbolic sacrifices in the form of sculpture and collage. When the time came to change to secondary school, in 1944, Achebe sat entrance examinations for and was accepted at both the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School in Onitsha and the even more prestigious Government College in Umuahia.

Modelled on the British public school, and funded by the colonial administration, Government College had been established in 1929 to educate Nigeria's future elite. It had rigorous academic standards and was vigorously elitist, accepting boys purely on the basis of ability. The language of the school was English, not only to develop proficiency but also to provide a common tongue for pupils from different Nigerian language groups. Achebe described this later as being ordered to "put away their different mother tongues and communicate in the language of their colonisers". The rule was strictly enforced and Achebe recalls that his first punishment was for asking another boy to pass the soap in Igbo. Once there, Achebe was double-promoted in his first year, completing the first two years' studies in one, and spending only four years in secondary school, instead of the standard five. Achebe was unsuited to the school's sports regimen and belonged instead to a group of six exceedingly studious pupils. So intense were their study habits that the headmaster banned the reading of textbooks from five to six o'clock in the afternoon (though other activities and other books were allowed). Achebe started to explore the school's "wonderful library There he discovered Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery (1901), the autobiography of an American former slave; Achebe "found it sad, but it showed him another dimension of reality". He also read classic novels, such as Gulliver's Travels (1726), David Copperfield (1850), and Treasure Island (1883) together with tales of colonial derring-do such as H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain (1887) and John Buchan's Prester John (1910). Achebe later recalled that, as a reader, he "took sides with the white characters against the savages" and even developed a dislike for Africans. "The white man was good and reasonable and intelligent and courageous. The savages arrayed against him were sinister and stupid or, at the most, cunning. I hated their guts




In 1948, in preparation for independence, Nigeria's first university opened Known as University College, (now the University of Ibadan), it was an associate college of the University of London. Achebe obtained such high marks in the entrance examination that he was admitted as a Major Scholar in the university's first intake and given a bursary to study medicine.[23] After a year of grueling work, he changed to English, history, and theology. Because he switched his field, however, he lost his scholarship and had to pay tuition fees. He received a government bursary, and his family also donated money – his older brother Augustine gave up money for a trip home from his job as a civil servant so Chinua could continue his studiesFrom its inception, the university had a strong English faculty; it includes many famous writers amongst its alumni. These include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, novelist Elechi Amadi, poet and playwright John Pepper Clark, and poet Christopher Okigbo.

/Achebe Colloquium At Brown University, Prividence Rhode Island.

In 1950 Achebe wrote a piece for the University Herald entitled "Polar Undergraduate", his debut as an author. It used irony and humour to celebrate the intellectual vigour of his classmates He followed this with other essays and letters about philosophy and freedom in academia, some of which were published in another campus magazine, The Bug. He served as the Herald's editor during the 1951–2 school year. While at the university, Achebe wrote his first short story, "In a Village Church", which combines details of life in rural Nigeria with Christian institutions and icons, a style which appears in many of his later works. Other short stories he wrote during his time at Ibadan (including "The Old Order in Conflict with the New" and "Dead Men's Path") examine conflicts between tradition and modernity, with an eye toward dialogue and understanding on both sides. When a professor named Geoffrey Parrinder arrived at the university to teach comparative religion, Achebe began to explore the fields of Christian history and African traditional religions. It was during his studies at Ibadan that Achebe began to become critical of European literature about Africa. He read Irish novelist Joyce Cary's 1939 book Mister Johnson, about a cheerful Nigerian man who (among other things) works for an abusive British storeowner. Achebe recognised his dislike for the African protagonist as a sign of the author's cultural ignorance. One of his classmates announced to the professor that the only enjoyable moment in the book is when Johnson is shotAfter the final examinations at Ibadan in 1953, Achebe was awarded a second-class degree. Rattled by not receiving the highest level, he was uncertain how to proceed after graduation. He returned to his hometown of Ogidi to sort through his options.

Teaching and producing

While he meditated on his possible career paths, Achebe was visited by a friend from the university, who convinced him to apply for an English teaching position at the Merchants of Light school at Oba. It was a ramshackle institution with a crumbling infrastructure and a meagre library; the school was built on what the residents called "bad bush" – a section of land thought to be tainted by unfriendly spirits. Later, in Things Fall Apart, Achebe describes a similar area called the "evil forest", where the Christian missionaries are given a place to build their churchAs a teacher he urged his students to read extensively and be original in their work The students did not have access to the newspapers he had read as a student, so Achebe made his own available in the classroom. He taught in Oba for four months, but when an opportunity arose in 1954 to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS), he left the school and moved to Lagos.



The NBS, a radio network started in 1933 by the colonial government assigned Achebe to the Talks Department, preparing scripts for oral delivery. This helped him master the subtle nuances between written and spoken language, a skill that helped him later to write realistic dialogueThe city of Lagos also made a significant impression on him. A huge conurbation, the city teemed with recent migrants from the rural villages. Achebe revelled in the social and political activity around him and later drew upon his experiences when describing the city in his 1960 novel No Longer at Ease. While in Lagos, Achebe started work on a novel. This was challenging, since very little African fiction had been written in English, although Amos Tutuola's Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952) and Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City (1954) were notable exceptions. While appreciating Ekwensi's work, Achebe worked hard to develop his own style, even as he pioneered the creation of the Nigerian novel itself. A visit to Nigeria by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 brought issues of colonialism and politics to the surface, and was a significant moment for Achebe. Also in 1956, Achebe was selected for training in London at the Staff School run by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). His first trip outside Nigeria was an opportunity to advance his technical production skills, and to solicit feedback on his novel (which was later split into two books). In London, he met a novelist named Gilbert Phelps, to whom he offered the manuscript. Phelps responded with great enthusiasm, asking Achebe if he could show it to his editor and publishers. Achebe declined, insisting that it needed more work.

Things Fall Apart

 (1959), at a time when Nigerian prose fiction was represented solely by the fantastic folklore romances of Amos Tutuola and the popular stories of urban life of Cyprian Ekwensi. Achebe's novel introduced serious social and psychological analysis into Nigerian literature. It is set in the early days of colonization and tells the tragedy of a warrior hero who rigidly identifies with the values of traditional Ibo society. For this reason, he lacks the required flexibility of mind and heart to adapt to changing conditions under incipient European impact. This novel won immediate international recognition. It also became the basis for a play by Biyi Bandele. The production was put together in 1997 by the Performance Studio Workshop of Nigeria and was presented as part of the Kennedy Center's African Odyssey series in 1999.

With his next novel, No Longer At Ease (1960), Achebe turned to the last phase of the colonial regime, describing with his usual poise and insight the tragic predicament of the young African idealist. His foreign education has converted him to modern standards of moral judgment without alleviating the inner and outer pressures of traditional mores. The catastrophe derives from the hero's inability to make his choice; it is the drama of a bungled destiny in a bewildering time of rapid cultural change.

Arrow of God (1964) reverted to the past once more. As the high priest of the village deity, the central character is a tribal intellectual who sees the weaknesses of the traditional outlook and senses the need for change. His mental alertness and consequent skepticism lay him open to the charge of betraying his own people. In a desperate outburst of arrogance he attempts to restore his prestige and to reassert the power of his god, but he merely succeeds in alienating the villagers, who begin to turn to the Christian missionaries.

So far, Achebe had been concerned with the clash of cultures, which is an all-pervading theme in the African novel. But by the mid-1960s the exhilaration of independence had died out in Nigeria as the country was faced with the terrific political problems common to the many polyethnic states of modern Africa. The Ibo, who had played a dominant role in Nigerian politics, now began to feel they were being reduced to the status of second-class citizens by the Moslem Hausa people of Northern Nigeria. Achebe turned his creative insight to an imaginative critique of public mores under independence. The result was A Man of the People (1966), a bitter portrayal of a corrupt Nigerian politician. The book was published at the very moment a military coup swept away the old political leadership and its abuses. That timing made some Northern military officers suspect Achebe played a role in the coup, but there was never any evidence supporting the theory.

During the Biafran succession from Nigeria (1967-70), however, Achebe served Biafra as a diplomat. He traveled to different countries publicizing the plight of his people, focusing especially on the Ibo children being starved to death and massacred. He wrote articles for newspapers and magazines about the Biafran struggle and living in Enugu, the designated capital of Biafra, and founded the Citadel Press with Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo.

Writing a novel at this time was out of the question, he said during a 1969 interview: "I can't write a novel now; I wouldn't want to. And even if I wanted to, I couldn't. I can write poetry--something short, intense, more in keeping with my mood." Three volumes of poetry emerged from this mood, as well as a collection of short stories and children's stories.

After the fall of the Republic of Biafra, Achebe continued to work as a senior research fellow at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, a position he had assumed several years before. He also devoted much time to the Heinemann Educational Books' Writers Series, which was designed to promote the careers of young African writers, became director of Nwamife Publishers, Ltd., and foundedOkike: A Nigerian Journal of New Writing.In 1972, he came to the United States to become an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (he taught there again in 1987), and in 1975 he joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He returned to the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1976 and was appointed a professor emeritus there in 1985.

His novel Anthills of the Savanna was published in 1987 and appeared on the short-list for the Booker Prize. Set in the imaginary West African nation of Kangan, it tells the story of three boyhood friends and the deadly effects of one's obsession with power and being elected "president for life." Its release coincided with Achebe's return to the United States and teaching positions at Dartmouth College, Stanford University and Bard College, among other universities. In Achebe's next book, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987, he examined the corrosive impact of the racism that pervades the traditional Western appraisal of Africa.

Over the years, Achebe has received dozens of honorary doctorates and several international literary awards. He is an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and his work has been translated into more than 40 languages. In 1994, he fled to Europe from the repressive Nigerian regime, which threatened to jail him. However, he later returned to Nigeria to serve as president of the town union of his native village of Ogidi, honored as such because of his dedication to his ancestors' myths and legends. In early 1999, he was appointed as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which works for family planning and reproductive health around the world.

In 2000, Achebe's nonfiction book Home and Exile, consisting of three essays whose intent is to rescue African culture from narratives written about it by Europeans, was published by Oxford University Press.






Visit Nigeria for a vacation, tour or business exploration Logbaby can help


Updated 2 Years ago

Find Us On Facebook

Tags:     Chinua Achebe (Biograhy)     Anambra state of Nigeria