It was utterly impossible to get a seat in AFRI1060P: “African Literature: Chinua Achebe” even five minutes before the class began. The small seminar classroom was filled to the brim with at least 40 students chatting and excited to find out exactly what they had signed up for.

Of course, not everyone was pre-registered — but luckily for them, Visiting Professor Ekwene Michael Thelwell decided that attendance at the first class is more important than being registered on Banner. He invited anybody who wanted to take the course after the first class to show up for the second lecture, implying that they had priority over those registered students who were absent.

Thelwell talked at length about the course, which is capped at 30, and did not hide his own excitement. “I envy you guys,” he said, “because we aren’t just going to read and analyze fiction.”

More after the jump.

Achebe himself is scheduled to attend four of the 14 classes, Thelwell said. He aims to prepare his students to read Achebe’s work “the way Okonkwo” — the main character in “Things Fall Apart” — “would read it.”

The course’s reading list includes Achebe’s most well-known book, but the students will analyze this novel in the context of his work as a whole. “The readings will be accretive,” Thelwell said, as the overarching similarity of the five Achebe novels present on the syllabus can only enhance the students’ understanding of his writing in its entirety. For their part, the students expressed interest in getting to know Achebe’s writing beyond his iconic book.

Thelwell emphasized that students will gain a “vocabulary” to help them engage with Achebe’s work. In fact, they won’t even be reading Achebe during the first two weeks of class — instead, they will be dealing with material that can give them an introduction to African culture. The course itself is supposed to give students a unique opportunity to discuss the meaning of a text with the author present in the classroom and even bounce their own ideas off of him.

“One of the things I won’t allow,” Thelwell said, “is to allow students to argue without evidence.” I guess it would be pretty embarrassing for anyone to ask Achebe a dumb, uninformed question…

— Leo Moauro

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