Chinua Achebe's Biography and Style

Added by Melissa Culross

[based upon Contemporary Authors]

Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born the son of Isaiah Okafo, a Christian churchman, and Janet N. Achebe November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria. He married Christie Chinwe Okoli, September 10, 1961, and now has four children: Chinelo, Ikechukwu, Chidi, and Nwando. He attended Government College in Umuahia from 1944 to 1947 and University College in Ibadan from 1948 to 1953. He then received a B.A. from London University in 1953 and studied broadcasting at the British Broadcasting Corp. in London in 1956.

Since the 1950's, Nigeria has witnessed "the flourishing of a new literature which has drawn sustanence from both traditional oral literature and from the present and rapidly changing society," writes Margaret Laurence in her book Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists. Thirty years ago Chinua Achebe was one of the founders of this new literature, and over the years many critics have come to consider him the finest of the Nigerian novelists. His acheivement, however, has not been limited to his continent. He is considered by many to be one of the best novelists now writing in the English language.

Unlike some African writers struggling for acceptance among contemporary English-language novelists, Achebe has been able to avoid imitating the trends in English literature. Rejecting the European notion "that art should be accountable to no one, and [needs] to justify itself to nobody," as he puts it in his book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe has embraced instead the idea at the heart of the African oral tradition: that "art is, and always was, at the service of man. Our ancestors created their myths and told their stories for a human purpose." For this reason, Achebe beleives that "any good story, any good novel, should have a message, should have a purpose."

Achebe's feel for the African context has influenced his aesthetic of the novel as well as the technical aspects of his work. As Bruce King comments in Introduction to Nigerian Literature: "Achebe was the first Nigerian writer to successfully transmute the conventions of the novel, a European art form, into African literature." In an Achebe novel, King notes, "European character study is subordinated to the portrayl of communal life; European economy of form is replaced by an aesthetic appropriate to the rhythms of traditional tribal life."

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