PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Chinua Achebe, the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana studies at Brown University, has been selected to receive the 2010 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for his unprecedented impact in literature. One of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts, the Gish Prize is given annually to a person who has made an “outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” The prize includes a silver medallion and an approximately $300,000 award.
Born in Nigeria in 1930, Achebe put African literature on the map with his groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart (1958), which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 50 languages. Achebe followed that with more than 20 books including novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry, often using his creative and critical writing as a force to forge a better understanding of modern-day Africa. He has worked continuously to encourage the spread of African culture beyond his own writing. He founded a number of magazines for African art, fiction, and poetry, helped develop a wider appreciation of the indigenous stories of the Igbo community, and was instrumental in bringing post-colonial African works to a larger audience as editor of the African Writers Series for Heinemann Publishing. Achebe is also an outspoken commentator on African issues, delivering social and political critiques and spearheading initiatives such as the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa at Brown University.
“When I was a boy growing up in Nigeria, becoming a novelist was a far-away dream,” Achebe told prize administrators. “Now it is a reality for many African writers, not just myself. The Gish Prize recognizes the long journey my fellow colleagues and I have taken, and I am proud and grateful for that.”
The Gish Prize was established in 1994 by The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust. Stars of the silent screen, Dorothy and Lillian Gish brought their unique sensibilities and talents to early film, shaping the development of that art form. The sisters made their motion picture debut together in D.W. Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912) and went on to appear in more than 100 films each. Lillian Gish died in 1993 and Dorothy Gish died in 1968. The Gish Prize commemorates their desire “to give the recipients of the prize the recognition they deserve, to bring attention to their contributions to society and encourage others to follow in their path.”
Achebe joins an impressive list of past Gish Prize winners including Pete Seeger, Robert Redford, Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller, Ornette Coleman, Merce Cunningham, and Frank Gehry.
Achebe will be honored in a ceremony Oct. 27, 2010, at the Hudson Theatre in New York City, celebrating his work and his impact on the international diaspora of African fiction and voices.