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Chinua Achebe is remembered as the 'father of modern African literature'

'Things Fall Apart' author Chinua Achebe wrote his first book in 1958 and won awards for his work that included the Man Booker International Prize.

By Contributor / March 22, 2013

Chinua Achebe at his home in Rhode Island. Mike Cohea/Brown University/AP

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The history of Nigeria cannot be told without author Chinua Achebe's voice. The man whom fellow author Nadine Gordimer called the "father of modern African literature" died this morning at the age of 82.

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Contributor

Ben Frederick is a contributor to The Christian Science Monitor.

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Born in Nigeria in 1930, Achebe spent his childhood in colonial schools. Interested in stories from a young age, he traveled the country with his parents, who were early Christian converts and evangelists. Achebe's fascination with stories led him to read colonial literature like "Allan Quatermain" in school. In an interview with the Paris Review, he said, "I instinctively took sides with the white people. They were fine! They were excellent. They were intelligent. The others were not... they were stupid and ugly. That was the way I was introduced to the danger of not having your own stories."

His idea of Africans not having their own stories or literature became a driving force in Achebe's life. In 1958, after graduating college, he published "Things Fall Apart" (the title is a line from a Yeats poem, "The Second Coming"). His first novel depicted the struggles of a traditional African society, the Igbo, with white Christian colonists.

His publisher, not confident in its marketability, only printed 2,000 copies, but his novel is now required reading in countless high schools and colleges, serving as an example of early post-colonial literature. "Things Fall Apart" is one of, if not the, most famous and important pieces of modern African literature.

In the 1960s, Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information during the Nigerian Civil War. In 2012, he wrote a memoir of this time called "There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra."

Achebe's voice never left the Nigerian political arena after their civil war ended in 1970. He developed a reputation as a frank and outspoken critic of corruption and abuse. He told the Paris Review, "I think writers are not only writers, they are also citizens... My position is that serious and good art has always existed to help, to serve, humanity. Not to indict... Art should be on the side of humanity."

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