Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, widely seen as the grandfather of modern African literature, has died at the age of 82.
From the publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, more than 50 years ago, Achebe shaped an understanding of Africa from an African perspective more than any other author.
As a novelist, poet, broadcaster and lecturer, Achebe was a yardstick against which generations of African writers have been judged. For children across Africa, his books have for decades been an eye-opening introduction to the power of literature.
Describing Achebe as a “colossus of African writing,” South African President Jacob Zuma expressed sadness at his death.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela, who read Achebe’s work in jail, has called him a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, told of his Igbo ethnic group’s fatal brush with British colonizers in the 1800s — the first time the story of European colonialism had been told from an African viewpoint to an international audience. The book was translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
He later turned his sights on the devastation wrought to Nigeria and Africa by military coups and entrenched dictatorship.
Born at Ogidi in southeast Nigeria on Nov. 16, 1930, Achebe was the son of a Christian evangelist. He went to mission schools and to University College, Ibadan, and taught briefly before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, where he was director of external broadcasting from 1961 to 1966.
When his homeland broke away from Nigeria in a disastrous bid for independence, Achebe launched a publishing company in Enugu, capital of the self-declared republic of Biafra.
After the war, which cost a million lives along with Biafra’s hopes of statehood, Achebe returned to Enugu to teach at the nearby Nsukka University.
In 1972 he moved to Massachusetts and since then spent much of his time in the US. His last post was at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Through tears, former government minister and friend Dora Akunyili said Achebe’s death “leaves a void in Nigeria, Africa and globally.”
Although Achebe never won the Nobel Prize for Literature like fellow Nigerian Wole Soyinka, his works won praise for their vivid portrayal of African realities and their accessibility.
His contribution was recognized when he won the Man Booker International Prize in 2007.