Chinua Achebe is Africa’s most important and influential writer. He was at the forefront of discussions and debates about African literature and identity, was instrumental in the development of African literature, and was a persistent critic of the Nigerian government. He was important to the Biafran self-determination struggle as a globe-trotting envoy as well as a policymaker in the short-lived government. He was also an important academic in both Nigeria and the United States. By all accounts, Chinua Achebe lived a full and eventful life that was certainly not free of drama and excitement. Here are some of the most interesting facts about the famed author.
Achebe Almost lost the manuscript for Things Fall Apart
‘Things Fall Apart’ as we know it almost never saw the light of day. When Achebe finished writing the work, he made the mistake of mailing the finished story’s only manuscript to a typing service in London for it to be typed. Here it was promptly abandoned and although Achebe would write repeatedly to the business requesting his manuscript, he would not get it back until the intervention of his boss at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, Angela Beattie. She visited the office of the typewriting agency while on a visit to the U.K and was able to get them to eventually mail Achebe his typed manuscript.
Achebe Refused 50 Cent permission to title his film ‘Things Fall Apart.’
In 2011, American rapper Curtis Jackson, popularly known as 50 Cent, offered Chinua Achebe $1 million to use the title of Achebe’s novel, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ for a movie that was in development at the time. The film, which was written, produced, and financed by Curtis Jackson, was about an American football player who was diagnosed with cancer. Achebe, however, considered the offer an insult. His legal team told 50 Cent that the cost of using the title was considerably far more than what was offered. According to Achebe’s legal team, the book’s title wouldn’t even have been sold for £1bn. 50 Cent was forced to rename the film ‘All Things Fall Apart.’ Filmed in Michigan, United States, and featuring big names like Ray Liotta, the film premiered at the Miami International Film Festival on March 5, 2011.
Achebe once narrowly escaped harm from hostile Nigerian soldiers
Achebe’s book, ‘A Man of the People,’ was published just two days before a bloody coup overthrew the country’s government on 15th January 1966. The coup ripped into Nigeria’s already fractured polity and ignited anger among people in the country’s North against the Igbos, who they perceived as attempting an ethnic power grab with the coup.
Northern soldiers soon undertook a countercoup by July 1966 that overthrew the Igbo-led government that came to power after the first coup. Achebe’s book was a bitter satire about the state of Nigerian politics, and the plot concluded with a revolutionary coup. Being Igbo himself, the novel earned Chinua Achebe the suspicion of the now Northern-led military, who believed he was in on the coup plot. They went to look for him at his place of work and residence in Lagos but failed to find him. Getting wind of their hunt, Achebe sneaked his family out of Lagos towards the eastern part of the country. He would join them soon after the Nigerian military called at his hideout asking after him.
Achebe rejected an Award from the Nigerian government twice
Chinua Achebe was twice offered the Commander of the Order of the Niger award in 2004 and 2011, but he rejected both. He rejected the award in 2004, in protest against poor governance in Nigeria. During the administration of Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, Achebe was again offered the prestigious award but rejected it a second time because the issues that made him reject it the first time had not been addressed. The Nigerian government expressed their disappointment at the rejection, believing that Achebe was misinformed about the situation in the country he was criticizing.
Achebe was funded by the CIA
Chinua Achebe’s success as a writer and as an important intellectual figure in both the African and Nigerian artistic and intellectual space won him support from several art-patronizing Foundations within the United States. One of these was the Farfield Foundation which financially supported projects like the Mbari Club in Ibadan, which Achebe cofounded in 1961.
These Funds assisted in the publication of the periodical, ‘Black Orpheus,’ which published several Anglophone and Francophone works on the continent. It was later revealed that the Farfield Foundation was a sham organization set up by the Central Intelligence Agency, which received funding via the Congress for Cultural Freedom. US tax dollars were used to fund African literary and cultural projects.
Achebe was also a participant at a major writing conference held at the university of Makerere in Uganda in 1962. The conference brought together important African writers and was also funded by the CIA through Farfield Foundation. Several commentators saw the conference as a sponsored assault against the budding influence of the Negritude movement. There is, however, no evidence that Achebe was in any way compromised by these fundings and influences, which were intended to win the hearts and minds of prominent African intellectuals within the context of the cold war between the United States and Russia.
When did Chinua Achebe become a successful writer?
Chinua Achebe shot to instant success with his very first full-length novel, ‘Things Fall Apart.’ Because of the quickness of his success, he never really experienced the life of a struggling writer.
Did Chinua Achebe help kickstart Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s writing career?
While Chinua Achebe was attending a conference for writers at the university of Makerere in 1962, he got to read the manuscript of the novel ‘Weep Not Child’ by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o,’ who was then a young student. He facilitated the publication of the work in the Heinemann African writers series, where he served as an editorial advisor. The work would achieve great success and, in so doing, launch Ngugi’s career as an important African writer.
When did Chinua Achebe start writing?
Chinua Achebe published his first story, titled ‘Polar Undergraduate,‘ as a student in the University of Ibadan campus magazine, the ‘University Herald’ in 1950.