Today in Literary History – November 16, 1930 – Chinua Achebe is born

Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist, poet and essayist was born on November 16, 1930. He is often called the most important modern African writer, mostly because of his groundbreaking first novel, Things Fall Apart, published in 1958.

It was one of the first novels written in English by an African and examining African themes. It is the story of Okonkwo, a traditional clan chieftain and how his world is overturned by white colonialists and Christian missionaries.

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I saw Achebe at a reading in Toronto many years ago. He was funny and a great storyteller. There were quite a few expatriate Nigerians in the audience, and Achebe read some of his poems in his native Igbo language.

One poem in particular had a very rhythmic cadence and people started to beat time on the tables. The poem also had a recurring verse and Igbo speakers started to chant along with Achebe whenever it came around, quietly and then thunderously.

Even not knowing a word of what was said it was still magical. (It was aparantly on a political theme.)

Achebe died in 2013, after teaching literature for many years in the United States.

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