Professor of Africana Studies Chinua Achebe dies at 82


World-renowned Nigerian author and David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies Chinua Achebe passed away on Friday. He was 82.

Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart is regarded as one of the most important forces in the development of African literature, and it is through this work that Achebe “gave birth to a modern Africa.”  The book has sold over 12 million copies in English and has been translated into more than 50 languages. Additionally, Achebe has written several essays, short stories, and poems that draw on his experience growing up in Nigeria, deal with the tension between colonialism and African values, and address questions about the role of African culture in postcolonial Africa.

Achebe was a beloved member of the Brown community: he joined the Brown faculty in 2009 as the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University, and oversaw the annual Achebe Colloquium on Africa, which has continuously attracted scholars and government officials from all over the world. According to its webpage, the colloquium, which has been convened by Achebe himself, brings key thinkers and figures together to discuss “the importance of strengthening democracy and peace on the African continent.” You can see a comprehensive list of Achebe’s works here; each work is a testament to his unwavering commitment to contributing to the dialogue on postcolonial Africa, African culture, and other relevant topics.

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Prof. Chinua Achebe speaks to NYT

Courtesy Justin Ide / Harvard News Office

World-renowned Brown Professor of Africana Studies Chinua Achebe did an interview with the New York Times that ran earlier this week. Here are a few highlights:

Interviewer: As a professor at Brown University, in Providence, R.I., you yourself live in exile, as do many other Nigerian writers, including the playwright Wole Soyinka and the young novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Achebe: If you were in Nigeria and had cause to go to a hospital or to see a doctor, you would then immediately understand why so many people are abroad.

Interviewer: You’ve been wheelchair-bound since 1990, as a result of a car accident that left you paralyzed from the waist down.
Achebe: Yes. I was in Nigeria when the accident happened. I was flown to England for treatment. They tried to put me together, then they recommended that I go to America for a follow-up, and that’s why I came to America.

Interviewer: How old are you now?
Achebe: I’m approaching 80. I don’t care about age very much. I think back to the old people I knew when I was growing up, and they always seemed larger than life.

Interviewer: What do you consider the most important thing about yourself?
Achebe: Oh, the most important thing about myself is that my life has been full of changes. Therefore, when I observe the world, I don’t expect to see it just like I was seeing the fellow who lives in the next room. There is this complexity which seems to me to be part of the meaning of existence and everything we value.


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.”

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Chinua Achebe coming to College Hill

The University announced Tuesday one of the highest-profile additions to its full-time faculty in years.

Chinua Achebe, the celebrated writer who is one of the best-known African writers and intellectuals of the 20th century, has joined the University’s Department of Africana Studies, officials said Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to bolstering a department that recently took a hit with the departure of James Campbell for Stanford last year, the 79-year-old Achebe instantly assumes the unofficial mantle of “professor whose book you’re most likely to have read in high school.” Achebe’s 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart is a staple of high school curricula and, according to Brown’s office of media relations, the most-read work of African literature of all time.

Though Achebe’s appointment has formally begun, University spokesman Mark Nickel said Tuesday that Achebe likely won’t arrive on campus until January. It’s unclear for the time being what, if any courses, he might be teaching in the spring, but let’s hope the Booker Man International Prize-winner is as adept with Banner as he is with the written word–his first class is sure to be a hot property during shopping period.

Check the Herald for in-depth coverage of Achebe’s appointment, including reaction from Africana studies department chair Tricia Rose.