Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In (belated) Honor of Chinua Achebe

B Y   A N D R E W   C O L A R U S S O 

Just yesterday I was reminded by the poet Michael S. Harper of Chinua Achebe's natal day--on November 16th the great author celebrated his 81st birthday. Both Michael Harper and Chinua Achebe are professors at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Late in Vartan Gregorian's term of presidency at the University, Harper wrote the citation, as honorand, of Achebe's Honorary degree (May 25th, 1998). Achebe would later be hired (from Bard) as faculty.

What can be said of Chinua Achebe's body of work that hasn't already been said? As novelist, poet, essayist, educator, and political ambassador, Achebe is an olympian figure. He has long represented the foundation of modern African literature and, for many of his readers, has been a tangible link to the imaginary of the motherland. Characteristic of great artists, Achebe's demands have been contradictory, complex and complicated by notions of race, myth, power and progress as exigencies of the languages we inhabit. The intellectual demands of his art have, for half a century, drawn water from stone. That is to say, the world has been radically changed by Achebe's word. He has challenged and provoked (as in his insistence on using english), assuaged and persuaded (as in his lectures on racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"). The world was indeed changed by the publication of "Things Fall Apart" and the body of work that would follow. 

We glean from his oeuvre that there is no great mystery to the flash and happening of lightning--that no spirit, no tradition is indomitable. The world we live in is tangible and belongs to no single person, no single idea. 

--Andrew E. Colarusso

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