Prominent Igbo (Ibo) writer, famous for his novels describing the effects of Western customs and values on traditional African society. Achebe's satire and his keen ear for spoken language have made him one of the most highly esteemed African writers in English. In 1990 Achebe was paralyzed from the waist down in a serious car accident.
"I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past - with all its imperfections - was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them" (from Morning Yet on Creation Day, 1975)
Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria, the son of a teacher in a missionary school. His parents, though they installed in him many of the values of their traditional Igbo culture, were devout evangelical Protestants and christened him Albert after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. In 1944 Achebe attended Government College in Umuahia. Like other major Nigerian writers including Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi, John Okigbo, John Pepper Clark, and Cole Omotso, he was also educated at the University College of Ibadan, where he studied English, history and theology. At the university Achebe rejected his British name and took his indigenous name Chinua. In 1953 he graduated with a BA. Before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Company in Lagos in 1954 he travelled in Africa and America, and worked for a short time as a teacher. In the 1960s he was the director of External Services in charge of the Voice of Nigeria.
During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70) Achebe was in the Biafran government service, and then taught at US and Nigerian universities. Achebe's writings from this period reflect his deep personal disappointment with what Nigeria became since independence.
In 1967 Achebe cofounded a publishing company at Enugu with his friend, the poet Christopher Okigbo, who was killed during the Nigerian Civil War. Achebe was appointed research fellow at the University of Nigeria, and after serving as professor of English, he retired in 1981. Since 1985, Achebe has been a professor emeritus. From 1971 he has edited Okike, the leading journal of Nigerian new writing. He has also held the post of Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. There he met James Baldwin, also a faculty member, who was Professor of African studies at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council at Anambra State University of Technology, Enugu. In the1990s Achebe was a faculty member at Bard College, a liberal arts school, where he has taught literature to undergraduates. An automobile accident on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in 1990 left Achebe confined to a wheelchair, permanently.
Achebe's first novel, THINGS FALL APART, appeared in 1958. The story of a traditional village "big man" Okonkwo, and his downfall has been translated into some 50 languages. It was followed two years later by NO LONGER AT EASE, and ARROW OF GOD (1964), which concern traditional Igbo life as it clashed with colonial powers in the form of missionaries and colonial government. Things Fall Apart (1958), an unsentimental novel, depicts the life of Okonkwo, ambitious and powerful leader of an Igbo community, who counts on physical strength and courage. The story is set in the 1890s, when missionaries and colonial government made its intrusion into Igbo society. Achebe took the title of the book from William Butler Yeats's The Second Coming - "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Achebe's own literary language is standard English blended with pidgin, Igbo vocabulary, proverbs, images, and speech patterns.
As an essayist Achebe has gained fame with his collections MORNING YET ON CREATION DAY (1975), HOPES AND IMPEDIMENTS (1988) and his long essay THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA (1983). In 'An Image of Africa' (1975) Achebe criticizes Conrad's racism in Heart of Darkness. He has defended the use of the English language in the production of African fiction, insisting that the African novelist has an obligation to educate, and has attacked European critics who have failed to understand African literature on its own terms. Achebe has defined himself as a cultural nationalist with a revolutionary mission "to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement." But Achebe has not stopped criticizing postcolonial African leaders who have pillaged economies. During the military dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha he left Nigeria several times. When the 70th birthday of the patriarch of the modern African novel was celebrated at Bard College, on November 2000, Wole Soyinka said: "Achebe never hesitates to lay blame for the woes of the African continent squarely where it belongs" [i.e. upon corrupt postcolonial African leaders who replaced Europeans].