Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Living Classic

Half a century ago, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe published a novel about a proud Ibo man. In just fifty years his mere 200 pages established a voice for African writers and transformed the literary world.

Thousands of high schoolers read Things Fall Apart every year as required reading. I have to admit, I read it for my senior AP English seminar because it was one of the shorter options on the list. I have always been deeply fascinated with everything African, but lets be honest, I was a busy girl looking down the tunnel of a 30 pager to follow the reading so I opted to keep it short.

It is one of the few books that changed my point of view. As Achebe said Monday, "You can read it a several times and find something new...and I wrote it."

Written in 1958 he was the first published African author to become an international bestseller. With his writings he provided a window into the continent.

When asked why he started writing he said,"I tried to answer Conrad's criticism [in Heart of Darkness] that Africans don't have a language... that was not Africa." Achebe carries the weight of meaning not in the obscure assemblage of letters - like some overly grasping poets, but in his simplicity. Like a reporter he tells the story by describing chosen details; perhaps why I find his work so attractive.

I obviously am not the only one. Fans lined up gripping books, I had my second copy in my hand (I had to buy a hardback edition because my  first copy is in an embarrassing state) at the reception before his awarding of the Patriot Award. Originally set up to host light conversation became a mob scene as attendees pressed in on the authors wheel chair. Some wanting signitures, others just a handshake and a few words.

What an undertaking, I have seen the author introduced twice now, both times by amazing literary academics, and I have to ask how do you describe exactly what Achebe has contributed in under 10 minutes. 
Well the mayor of Fairfax clearly did not take the same considerations as he introduced the author  he plowed through his last name, to the shock and offense of the audience.

The spectrum in attendance Monday was as varied as the publication covers. From high school students, cliquey college kids to middle aged business men, 2,000 turned out at George Mason's Patriot Center to see the living legend.
Achebe read from a selection of poems including The Explorer as well as his Things Fall Apart. Having missed to opportunity to get his signature at the Washington Post reading last April, I was determined this go around. Mid reading I jumped up and jetted to the signing line. Surprisingly I was the first this time. VICTORY!

As I shared with Dr. Achebe - looking at the diversity of the 2,000 fans lined up for a signature was truly a testament to the impact of his work.

1 comment:

  1. I love him - this was one of the books I had to read for class, but its really good!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.