Why Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko, is Africa’s writer of the century.
By CHIDO NWANGWU, Founder and Publisher, USAfricaonline.com
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine and The Black Business Journal
(First written on March 1, 2002, for USAfrica, updated for Prof. Achebe’s 74th Birthday tribute on November 16, 2004, and published in CLASS magazine same month)
USAfrica: On December 1, 2004, Achebebooks.com came live on the Internet. Deservedly, it marked the first time that the networks of USAfrica established a website to a capture the life, continuing works, the foresight and unique wisdom of a human being, the distinguished Prof. Chinua Achebe.
On 08-08-08 (August 8, 2008) in Houston, Texas, I’ll convene and convest the USAfrica international Harvest of Achebe which will focus on 50 years of his epic masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. Prof. Achebe’s life is a towering and exemplary portrait of dedication, decency, frankness, scholarship, humility, jocosity and an unending quest for serving the highest interests of humankind. He writes with extraordinary insight and vitality. He’s one of one of the greatest writers of the 20th and 21st century.
We agree with Princeton University’s professor of philosophy, Kwame Anthony Appiah, who said in 2004 that “In every English and non-English speaking country on the planet, if you ask a student to name just one African novel, it is most likely to be ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Achebe. It is the beginning of the African canon. it is difficult to think of anything else without it.”
Before he spoke, a scholarly jury of Africa’s great minds chose Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ as ‘the Best Book of the century’. They made their selection of Africa’s 100 best books at a meeting in Accra, Ghana and their decision was announced at the Golden Tulip Hotel Accra on Tuesday February 18, 2002.
The mission of this site and the book projects are:
1) to harvest varying viewpoints on the most respected and readable writer of African descent;
2) to share with the world our modest but familiar and unique perspectives and reviews of books on Prof. Achebe, the eagle on the iroko, our pathfinder, social conscience of millions, cultural custodian and elevator, chronicler and essayist, broadcaster extraordinaire, goodwill ambassador and man of progressive rock-ribbed principles, the most translated writer of Black heritage in the world into the 20th and 21st centuries;
His works, evidently, are timeless since he unfurled his familiar and readable style with his masterpiece, ‘Things Fall Apart’ in 1958 (long before I was born). Achebe was born on November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, in the Igbo nation inside the federal republic of Nigeria.
This special website in progress, Achebebooks.com, and the forthcoming book, ‘Achebe: Eagle on the Iroko’ will reflect our continuing quests to produce special projects which hold trans-generational value, cross-cultural insights and modest intellectual expositions regarding the icons,pacesetters and leading lights of our shared heritage on such areas as religious, political, social, literary, technological and moral arenas of humankind. Achebe remains the chief educator of millions on the impact of African pre-colonial lives, the impact of colonial predations on the foundations of life and living on the continent, culture clashes and the dubious roles of post-colonial, indigenous African leaders.
Accordingly, Achebe’s October 2004 brief letter to the Obasanjo’s presidency reminded even the indifferent and the cynical that some of Nigeria’s very best cannot be attracted to the seductive allurements of State power and its increasingly sham honorifics. Again, the Eagle on the iroko proved why his message and timing are reflective of the ways of a sage. In rejecting the award from the embattled presidency of Obasanjo, Achebe’s symbolic point further drew the line between the toadying apologists of Obasanjo and his critics. Achebe’s October 2004 rejection of Nigeria’s retired General Obasanjo’s “national honours award” will remain a benchmark of honor, decency, and integrity.
But such facts and discretion are lost on Obasanjo’s loud-hailers and hoary apologists who attacked Achebe with such hideous ignorance and crass incivility. Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, their lead attack-dog and privileged rascal who masquerades as “presidential adviser/assistant” to retired Gen. Obasanjo, dramatized his bovine ill-mannerisms to the international community. But presidential spokesperson Ms. Remi Oyo showed class by taking a different, mild approach.
Achebe’s decision to reject the 2004 national honors from Obasanjo is not accidental; it’s rooted in his position that a writer ought to see himself/herself as a part of the wider goal of building a better society. For him, there’s an organic relationship between writing as education and the building of a better society. Recall that the prolific Achebe wrote in 1975 in his work ‘Morning Yet on Creation Day’ that “The writer cannot be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done…”
We’re committed to fulfilling that and the foundational mission which I envisioned and have pursued since 1992 for the Houston-based USAfrica (described by The New York Times in September 2003 as the largest/most influential African-owned U.S.-based media networks.) Again, to borrow Achebe’s own words, for us, it’s “morning yet on creation day”…!
We’ll like to know and learn more from the master, Ugo n’abo! What motivates and circumbscribes his works? What is yet to be known about Achebe’s works from Achebe himself? What are his thoughts on literature (ancient and modern), storytelling and writing in the digital age? What are Achebe’s realized hopes and unmet expectations? What should the younger generation of the world carry forth as the core messages in the phenomenal works of the Eagle on the Iroko? Hopefully, my book will provide answers to those questions and hundreds more. We’ll like to know and learn more from the master, Ugo n’abo!
With every work, the man who wrote ‘Things Fall Apart’ when he was only 28 years old, shows his profound scholarship and visionary rigor.
Prof. Achebe’s style and structure allow his thoughts and the characters in his literary masterpieces to come through with striking fullness. My point is that Prof. Chinua Achebe’s cultural contexts are, harmoniously, global and local. Hence, his literary contextualizations soar beyond the confines of Umuofia and any Igbo or Nigerian setting of his creative imagination or historical recall. His globalist underpinnings and outlook are truly reflective of the true essence of his Igbo world-view, his upbringing and disposition. Igbos and Jews share (with a few other cultures) this pan-global disposition to issues of art, life, commerce, juridical pursuits.
He explores the communal interest vis-a-vis the vitality of the individual/self. Also, in Prof. Achebe’s works, the centrality of Chi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology. Along the same line, in my letter to my son, Chido Nwangwu II, who turned One on February 12, 2002, those values and messages are embedded and made whole. Such and similar trans-generational linkages are being made as part of the structure of my book, Achebe: Eagle on the Iroko.
Therefore, it is also being written, in part, to make sense for younger African youth (such as my son who were born in the United States of America when they grow old enough to read and deduct meaning), for the older folk, other citizens of the world who seek to make contextual meaning of ancient and modern Africa, all who hold critical and/or appreciative views of Achebe’s works. it will be useful for students and teachers on matters Achebe. (See commentary on this issue in USAfricaonline.com and CLASS magazine: Why Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko, is Africa’s writer of the century).
On a personal note, I’m privileged to be a friend of the noble Chinua Achebe family – especially their son Dr. Chidi Achebe. It must be noted that Prof. Achebe has been richly blessed by the support and love of his outstanding wife, Prof. Christie Chinwe Achebe. The few times I chatted with the great writer and master of lucidity, the more one learned additional lessons in humility and dignified carriage. He does not speak much, anyway. But if you listened to his soft and oracular tone, you’ll hear the meaning of his occasional silence. And, the times I’ve listened to him speak at public events, one leaves with his certain, clear and ironclad commitment to speaking unvarnished truth to power. He offers the challenge to live a purposeful life.
Amidst the harvest of diverse points on Achebe, the key reason I established Achebebooks.com is to study, honor and further the distinguished legacy of the great writer, my mentor and educator. Those goals go beyond the daily demand of news reporting, assorted deadlines, technology education and general commentaries of my roles as Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (first African-owned, U.S.-based multimedia web site to be published on the Internet), and the related platforms and products of USAfrica.
Ugo n’abo, may your lineage endure!!!