He is described as the conscious of African literature. He is also responsible for “African-izing” the art of story telling, according to Joya F. Uraizee, associate professor of english at Saint Louis University.
On Thursday, Oct. 28, Chinua Achebe received the thirty-second Saint Louis Literary Award. The Nigerian born author now joins an elite group of writers who have been honored with this prize. Some of the past winners include literary giants such as Tennesee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, John Updike and Tom Wolfe just to name a few.
Achebe has published many forms of literature ranging from novels, short stories, essays and poems. During the lecture, Achebe spoke of one of his first short stories. He described a scene from Chike’s School Days. In this story, Achebe tells of one boy’s experiences at the height of British rule in Africa. For many, this brief speech allowed a quick glimpse into the author’s powerful imagination and creative ability.
At the end of his lecture, Achebe accepted a few questions from the crowd that not only enlightened but entertained.
Achebe is well-traveled in the academic world. He has served as professor of english at the Universities of Massachusetts and Connecticut. He is an honorary fellow of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Professor Achebe has received 11 honorary doctorates from universities in England, Scotland, Nigeria, the United States and Canada. As if that were not enough, Achebe is also the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award.
Achebe’s work in literature has been widely influential in speaking for the masses. “The novelist is a recorder or witness of events,” Achebe said. Many of his books reflect this view, dealing with social issues that affect Africa.
One student at SLU described him as a liberator as well as an author. Achebe is noted to have once said, “Writers don’t give perceptions, they give headaches.”
Freshman Tomiwa Alabi said, “Through literature, [Achebe and his contemporaries] can express the harsh realities and injustices yet they still maintain pride and nationalism.”
Alabi-fully clad in the traditional Kaftan, a formal robe representative of the Hausa tribe from Northern Africa-described Achebe as a national icon. Another attendant said that anyone who has been to high school in Africa has either heard of or read Achebe’s works.
Achebe’s novels have one theme: the African people. “Their lives mean so much to me. There are simply not enough novels written about Africa. We need to hear all of these stories,” Achebe said.
Many of his works have received global attention. Things Fall Apart is perhaps his most widely read book. It has been published in over 50 languages and over eight million copies are in existence. One audience member asked Achebe whether he would make any changes to Things Fall Apart if he had the chance, and he responded, “I’ll keep it the way it is. Why rewrite old books when there are so many new stories and so many new things to tell about?”
Achebe did hint at the possibility of writing more books. “Once you’ve been [writing] as long as I have, it’s hard to stop.”