Sunday, 24 March 2013

Chinua Achebe’s passing: Elegies from fellow writers, critics

Chinua Achebe’s passing: Elegies from fellow writers, critics

By Anote Ajeluorou

Wale Okediran (former President, Association of Nigerian Authors)

What can I say? It’s very shocking although we shall all have to go one day. His is a great loss to the Nigerian literature and country. He’s done very well, played his part, left behind great works; he was even controversial at the very end. I’m proposing a state burial for him. As a giant literary figure, he deserves a state burial. FG should name something after him; maybe a stadium or one of the great universities.
  The controversy that trailed his last book, There Was a Country shouldn’t take a thing away from him. As a writer, he was bound to open a Pandora box, but that shouldn’t reduce the honour he richly deserves. We shouldn’t use that to judge his contributions to national discourse and culture development.

Prof. Charles Nnolim (University of Port Harcourt-based teacher and literary critic)

I was shocked; I didn’t know he was ill at all. But we have to look at the bright side of his life. He was our icon in the area of literature; he was very original and courageous. He lucky in that he had advantage of early start; he was original and didn’t have anybody to copy from. He was courageous in attacking Nigeria in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria, A Man of the People.
  Like I said, he was courageous in attacking Nigeria’s corruption; he was a leader in the first class order. He pioneered African Writers Series (AWS), Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA); he started Okike magazine, which is still running. He had to reject an honour from Nigerian government on account of bad leadership. He is the man from who all Africa learnt from, a writer of world-class.
  Things Fall Apart is one the best 100 books in the world. We hope that writers coming after him will have his genius and courage.

Prof. Abiola Irele (literary critic and Dean, College of Humanities at Kwara State University, Ofa)

Well, Achebe’s death is a great loss to us in Nigeria. As one of pioneering writers, he gave Africa a decided image, a high profile. My only regret is that he did not get the Nobel Prize! It would have been a great honour to him and Nigeria. But his works will endure.

Prof. Femi Osofisan (retired academic, playwright, poet and novelist)

It is still a shock even though he was old enough. Achebe was one of the truly great minds of his generation, who could be both grandly right and grandiosely wrong. That is perhaps why he has ended amidst a burning controversy, for such is always the paradox of genius. Only the small stars die without a noise. I am convinced that Achebe will continue to speak to us, perhaps even louder now from the grave.

Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo (two-time Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan)

We have lost the most outstanding writer our country has produced. He started a tradition, which many people admit is unique. This was somebody, whose influence has been very strong in Nigerian literature over the last 50 years or so. He started a tradition in Nigerian literature in English language, which has inspired many people to write. It’s unfortunate and regretful that his life was characterized by controversy. But that doesn’t taint the contributions that he has made to African. He’s among the heroes of Nigeria literature; and he’s go to go on inspiring Nigerian literature in the future.

Nkanu Emori (Former ANA Legal Adviser)

Oh my God! African literature is finally down.
First, it was strapped to a wheelchair. And now it is strapped to a casket. May his golden soul rest in the Lord. Selah.

Unoma Azuah (novelist and U.S.-based academic)

Achebe's passing has left a huge void in my life as a writer. I met him at Nsukka as an undergraduate student at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His daughter, Nwando, is a friend and, of course, the affirmation he gave me and continues to give me as a Nigerian writer lives on. He taught me the need to have my own voice and to tell my own truth no matter how peculiar it may seem. He was a warrior who defended and protected our stories. He was a warrior that fortified and celebrated our literature. Like he said, and I paraphrase: if the hunter is left to tell the story of a hunt, he'll always proclaim himself the victor. Achebe will be greatly missed.

Odia Ofeimun (poet and social critic)

He gave his best. His best remains forever phenomenal. We can quarrel as we please with aspects of his works and days. What we all owe him makes him triumphant. I wished we argued more with him than we did. But he was always treated like the wise old one even when he was 30, and not quite right. He will be remembered for as long as stories are told.

Hyacinth Obunseh (former Association of Nigerian Authors General Secretary and promoter of African Writers Forum)

Achebe is Dead! Grant State Pardon to Vatsa, Saro-Wiwa

Achebe, Africa’s, nay, the black world’s biggest and most celebrated novelist, has passed on.  He was one of the finest minds of his generation.  He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and the literary world. In his lifetime, he was humble, self-effacing, and lived the life he preached. He loved and believed in his people and Nigeria.
  For so many years he lived abroad as a result of a fatal accident he sustained several decades ago.  Had he stayed back home in Nigeria, chances are that he would not have lived long enough to make the contributions he made to world literature since then, till he passed away, as a result of our poor health and medical facilities, which has led influential members of this and previous administrations as well as the rich to go abroad for medical reasons.
  We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to declare a State of Emergency in the health sector to arrest the situation and save Nigerians.
  We also seize this opportunity to call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to grant State Pardon to General Mamman Jiya Vatsa and Mr. Kennule Saro-Wiwa, in the spirit of national reconciliation. Their contributions to Nigerian and African literature and environmental struggle cannot be over emphasised.
  Issues concerning their deaths at best remain complicated and inconclusive. Indeed, this government has in the very recent past granted State Pardon to state terrorists and other persons convicted of crimes against the state.  Granting Vatsa and Saro-Wiwa State Pardon at this time will go a long way to show government’s seriousness in ‘not wanting people to suffer for too long’ for whatever crimes they may have committed against the state.
  The families, friends and associates of Vatsa and Saro-Wiwa have suffered so much these past years, and we believe the government should dry their tears and end their sufferings at this time by pardoning them officially for whatever crimes they were accused of committing, even as those crimes were not proven then and now.

Prof. Niyi Osundare (Distinguished Professor of English, University of New Orleans, USA)

Chinua Achebe: Death, where are thy claws?

Chinua Achebe is one of those epically unique individuals whose lives have been so full, so purposive and so impactful that we begin to pray that they will never die. But who doesn't know that that is mere wishful thinking? To be sure, the Eagle on Iroko didn't die young, but he left when we still need him urgently and acutely. He has gone, but he left so much of, by, himself behind...
  Achebe shook up the literary world with Things Fall Apart when he was barely in his late twenties. He told Africa's story and gave humanity a song. Since that day in 1958 when that epochal novel intruded upon the world to this very day, hardly any week has passed without the author's name being mentioned somewhere in this world of books and ideas.
  But if the sheer force and range of Achebe's fiction gave Africa a voice, the fearless truth of his critical interventions challenged so many myths and deliberate falsehoods about the most misrepresented and recklessly abused continent in the world. Achebe knew, and he tried to get us to know, that  Africans will remain mere objects of the stories told by others, until they, Africans,  have started to tell their own story their own way - without shutting out the rest of the world. Achebe challenged the 20th century philosophy of fiction as a pretty object d'art, arriving with works, which foregrounded the human condition and told the wondering world that the clotheless Emperor was, indeed, naked! He entered a plea for the urgent necessity of an entity called 'applied art' and emboldened us to look triumphalist Formalism in the face and demand to see its passport. Yes, Achebe told a world sold to the art-for-art's-sake mystique that it is, indeed, possible to be an accomplished novelist who is also a teacher.
  Controversy hardly ever parts company with a writer and thinker of his brand. He took almost as much criticism as he gave; for he was a man who never ran from a fight.
  The world celebrates the LIFE of this distinguished story-teller and thinker. (Yes, celebrate, for to mourn is to concede supremacy to Death - and Oblivion, its Mephistophelean factotum).
  Rest well, Chinualomogu. Rest well, Obierika, the man who thought about things. Posterity will never let you die. We regret your passing. We celebrate your Life.

-New Orleans, March 22, 2013.    

Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade (Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan and President,
Association of Nigerian Authors)

Here in Germany, phone calls and questions about the truth of the passing of the grand patron and first President and Trustee of ANA jolted me into disbelief.
  Chinua Achebe, foremost African thinker, hugely popular on the strength of his revolutionary novel and the other seminal prose works he produced over 5 decades, Chinua Achebe, the absolute and consummate prose maestro is no more. His name, alongside others of his generation, was key to accessing the world literary stage.
  Here was a man who chose the profession of writing early and above the more fashionable or prestigious calling of the medical profession. A pioneer student of the Ibadan school of creative writing, a dogged and unyielding fighter to the very end, and a true mentor to a generation of writers across the world.
  Even in my country now, the fact of his death is dissolving into reality. Eagle on Iroko, the master-artist, the compelling stylist of the English language has left the world of the flesh, he left in the middle of a revived discourse of the fate of our Nigerian nation.
  And it was a symbolic day. In the commemoration of the UNESCO World Poetry Day, things fell apart in the firmament of Nigerian and African Literature. A bleak day indeed, the devastating reality, the ending of a huge chapter in the history of African Literature. 
  Adieu Chinua Achebe, adieu irreplaceable son of Africa!

Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo (Poet and Assistant Professor of English, Texas State University, USA)

Achebe on his Transfiguration into Ancestordom

The news of Achebe's transfiguration into an ancestral spirit reached us in Charleston, North Carolina, in the middle of this year's annual meeting of the African Literature Association (ALA). As is to be expected, we -- writers, critics, publishers, readers -- were thrown into deep mourning. But we mourned with one hand drying tears and the other waving jubilantly to Achebe's spirit, looking even more resplendent dressed for his triumphant entry into ancestordom, beaming benevolently at us as he bid us farewell.
  At 7 PM last night, all the participants gathered to pay homage to a Titan of world -- note, I said world, not merely African -- literature.
  I first read Achebe as a twelve-year-old at Federal Government College, Warri. It was appropriate, I think, that my introduction to the fabled Achebe-lore, was through Chike and the River, a story for children replete with magic (for good measure, it has a character named Professor Chandus), curiosity and dream, all borne of the self-enlarging wish not to remain in one place; of the desire to avoid the mind-numbing that comes with an inability to imagine other places and their ways of being in the world.
  Because I read the imperishable Things Fall Apart two years later, as any of the works of the three others of the Fabulous Four of Nigerian literature -- Christopher Okigbo, J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka -- it is clear to me that Achebe had the earliest shaping influence on my desire to become a writer. The magic of story-telling, of creating imaginary worlds and making them rival the real world in plausibility, had cast its spell on me and even though I didn't know it at the time, I would never want to be free of it!
  Achebe's exit, like the fall of an iroko, denudes our socio-cultural landscape: the grass is exposed and thinner, the leaves are less green, but I take solace in the fact that further down in the forest are other irokos; that Achebe, now an ancestor is an even more potent force for regeneration. If I have any lament, an inconsolable grief, it is that Achebe died in exile. And, worse, that The Trouble with Nigeria, the conditions that led to "one of the greatest sons of the land" dying so far away from home twenty-two years after he was crippled in a road accident and became bound to a wheelchair have not changed for the better by a jot. Indeed, that they have grown even worse with no promise of a halt to the slide into a state ruled by a buccaneer ruling class defined by two words only: ineptitude and corruption.
  Still, I rejoice in having a literary father such as Achebe, sitting now on his hallowed stool among the ancestors. I trust Christopher Okigbo is crying tears of the laughter of reunion at this moment!

Assistant Professor of English
Texas State University
San Marcos, TX 78666

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