Passages

Chinua Achebe: Writer, critic, social historian

March 22, 2013  |  Media Contact: Mark Nickel |  401-863-1638
Chinua Achebe - The David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies
Chinua Achebe The David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University
Chinua Achebe, the David and Marianna Fisher University professor and professor of Africana studies at Brown University, died in Boston Thursday evening, March 21, 2013. Achebe, among the world’s greatest writers of his time, joined the Brown faculty in the fall of 2009.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University learned this morning of the death of Chinua Achebe in Boston Thursday evening, March 21, 2013.

Achebe, the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana studies, joined the Brown faculty in September 2009.

Best known for his novels and essays which critique postcolonial Nigerian politics and society as well as the impact of the West on Africa, Achebe was widely acknowledged as “godfather” to a generation of African writers. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely read work of African fiction, having sold more than 12 million copies in English alone. It has been translated into 50 languages.

Among his activities at Brown was the annual Achebe Colloquium on Africa, an international gathering of scholars, policymakers, elected officials, writers, and others with a shared interest in current-day African affairs.

“The colloquia he organized at Brown attracted a grand array of guests and effectively demonstrated how the humanities can build understanding by drawing from and encouraging a variety of perspectives,” said Brown University President Christina H. Paxson. “We were honored to have him among us.”

“Professor Achebe’s contribution to world literature is incalculable,” said Brown President Emerita Ruth J. Simmons, who led the University when Achebe came to Brown. “Millions find in his singular voice a way to understand the conflicting opportunities and demands of living in a post-colonial world. The courageous personal and artistic example he offered will never be extinguished. Brown is fortunate to have been his home.”

From Corey D.B. Walker, associate professor and chair of the Department of Africana studies:

He was more than just a colleague, faculty member, and teacher at Brown. He was a gift to the world. We are very privileged to have had him with us for the last four years and even more so for allowing us to get close to him and his family.

At a time like this we could draw many words of wisdom and comfort from the deep wells of various African cultures and traditions to honor him. The most fitting is the simple and elegant phrase, “A great tree has fallen.”

Indeed, the passing of Chinua Achebe is an event of global significance. The entire faculty and staff in the Department of Africana Studies share in the celebration of the great life that is Chinua Achebe.

From Anani Dzidzienyo, associate professor of Africana studies and Portuguese and Brazilian studies:

Part of his impact was that he was always a part of Africana studies. His presence in the department affirmed our intellectual mission and strengthened our commitment and dedication to Africana studies. Indeed, his presence was powerful. When he was first appointed, a friend told me we had captured history and planted it in Churchill House.

He brought the whole history of contemporary African writing to Brown from the time when he wrote Things Fall Apart to the present. His name symbolizes the themes and issues that characterize African societies and cultures. His presence at Brown is something we could not have imagined before it happened. He was an inspiration to us and our students. As a student remarked, “It is incredible that he is here with us.”

In the spirit of Ghanian proverbs, and by implication African proverbs, I leave these words for contemplation: “The path crosses the river and the river crosses the path. Which came first, the path or the river?”

May you travel well, Professor Achebe.

 During his time at Brown, Achebe convened four colloquia:

  • The 2012 Achebe Colloquium focused on the security situation throughout northern, central, and eastern Africa; ethno-religious insurgency and regime change in West Africa; and peace-building efforts taking place in southern Africa.
  • The 2011 Achebe Colloquium explored the Arab Spring and the crisis in Darfur.
  • The 2010 Achebe Colloquium focused on three African nations — Rwanda, Congo, and Nigeria — and the crucial issues impacting those countries, the continent, and the world.
  • The inaugural 2009 Achebe Colloquium addressed the problems and prospects of the 2010 Nigerian elections.

University flags are flying at half-staff, and the University will plan an appropriate memorial in celebration of Achebe’s life and work.

Achebe photographs (click image for downloadable high resolution)

At homeAt home
Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

With former PresidentRuth J. SimmonsWith former President
Ruth J. Simmons

Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Writing in his officeWriting in his office
Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

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