In This Article Chinua Achebe

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Debates and Controversies
  • Techniques

African Studies Chinua Achebe
by
Evan Mwangi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0138

Introduction

Chinua Achebe (b. 1930–d. 2013) is the best-known African novelist. Although several African writers preceded him, the author of the groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is considered the father of African literature. This novel is the most widely studied work of art in Africa, and it is one of the most frequently taught African texts in the world. His other novels are No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Things Fall Apart dominates discussions on Achebe, hence the need to study his other works, especially his poetry and children’s books. The famed writer was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe on 16 November 1930 in Ogidi, southeastern Nigeria. He attended the University of Ibadan between 1948 and 1953. After an eight-month teaching stint at Merchant of Light School, Achebe joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as a producer in 1954 and received training at the BBC in 1956. It was while in London that he submitted his manuscript for Things Fall Apart to Heinemann. Achebe rejoined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1961 as director of external broadcasting, a position he held until 1966. He is most recognized in African letters not only for his works but also for being the founding editor of the prestigious Heinemann’s African Writers Series, which he started in 1962. He taught in such universities as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Bard College in New York, and Brown University in Rhode Island, USA. Besides receiving over thirty honorary doctorates from universities across the globe, Achebe won numerous literary awards, including the Man Booker International Prize (2007) and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2010). He died on 21 March 2013, at the age of 82, in Boston, Massachusetts. A prolific author who has also been widely discussed from various perspectives, Achebe has excited a large body of work. This article outlines works by Achebe and on him. It starts with books that give an overview of his writing. The article further considers reference books on Achebe’s work before introducing his novels, essays, short stories, and poetry as well as criticism that his major works have generated. The article also presents works discussing themes in Achebe’s texts, including his treatment of gender issues. However, the article suggests that the theme of masculinity in Achebe’s works needs to be explored further, as critics tend to limit themselves to analysis of the construction of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. Also noting the paucity of research on Achebe’s style besides his use of folklore in his early novels and children’s books, the article closes with reference to a few works that consider Achebe’s stylistic choices.

General Overviews

Given his stature in world literature, most studies on Achebe open with an overview of his writing. But there are several publications that devote themselves to providing introductory overviews of Chinua Achebe’s writing. Melone 1973 is an early French-language overview of Achebe’s treatment of history that compares him to other African artists. Killam 1977 is a general commentary that covers not only the novels but also the poetry and short fiction by Achebe. Wren 1980 offers a useful outline of Achebe’s writing in the context of historical and anthropological documents about the Igbo society represented in Achebe’s work. Various studies came out in the 1990s, as Achebe solidified his stature as a force to reckon with in world literature. Carroll 1990 includes not only an analysis of long and short works by Achebe but also a chronology of his life and writing career. Yousaf 2003 is a concise overview of Achebe’s writing in the context of modern African writing that outlines his historical fiction as well as his writing about contemporary Nigeria. Mezu 2006 is an overview that discusses Achebe’s work in relation to major world black writers (e.g., Zola Neale Hurston). Innes 1990 and Gikandi 1991 are excellent models because while theoretically engaging they are arguably the most authoritative and detailed overviews of Achebe’s masterworks.

  • Carroll, David. Chinua Achebe: Novelist, Poet, Critic. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230375215E-mail Citation »

    A discussion of Achebe’s works, including his short stories and poetry. Contains a select bibliography and a chronology of major events in Achebe’s life and literary activities. First published in 1980, but updated to cover later work.

  • Gikandi, Simon. Reading Chinua Achebe. London: James Currey, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    A sophisticated reading of Achebe’s novels in the context of nation-formation in Africa. Uses historical and theoretical materials to reveal the richness and ambiguity of Achebe’s writing.

  • Innes, Catherine Lynnette. Chinua Achebe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511554407E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive analysis of Achebe’s writing, including poetry and short stories, this book traces the origins of Achebe’s writings and the influences on it. Includes a rich select bibliography and chronology.

  • Killam, G. D. The Writings of Chinua Achebe: A Commentary. London: Heinemann Educational, 1977.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an authoritative analysis of Achebe’s novels, short stories, and poetry in the context of 20th-century world writing. It devotes a chapter to each of Achebe’s novels. The book was first published in 1969 as The Novels of Chinua Achebe and has been updated to cover short fiction and verse.

  • Melone, Thomas. Chinua Achebe et la tragédie de l’histoire. Paris: Présence africaine, 1973.

    E-mail Citation »

    A French-language study of the tragedy in Achebe’s historical works. Puts Achebe in the context of other African writers like Sembene Ousmane and in reference to the Western writers Achebe alludes to in his works.

  • Mezu, Rose Ure. Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works. London: Adonis & Libby, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an overview of Achebe’s writing, especially the novels, which contains interviews with Achebe’s family. Discussing Achebe’s major works in the context of Igbo culture, the book includes discussions on the representations of women in Achebe’s work and comparative analysis of his work in relation to different writers (e.g., Zola Neale Hurston and Olaudah Equiano).

  • Wren, Robert M. Achebe’s World: The Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels. Washington, DC: Three Continents, 1980.

    E-mail Citation »

    A useful early overview of the cultural and historical contexts of Achebe’s writing. Includes discussions not only on Achebe’s works but on the writing Achebe responds to. Includes pictures of the Igbo cultural phenomena discussed and a rich glossary of Igbo and Pidgin English expressions in Achebe’s works.

  • Yousaf, Nahem. Chinua Achebe. Devon, UK: Northcote House, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    A concise overview of Achebe’s writing, it includes a chapter on Achebe’s rewriting of Joseph Conrad and Joyce Cary. It puts the writing in the broader context of African literature and includes a rich select bibliography and chronology.

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