LAGOS, Nigeria— The news of the death of Chinua Achebe, the influential Nigerian author renowned for his novel “Things Fall Apart,” reverberated across the country’s cultural and political circles on Friday. “I must say it’s a most painful death for me,” said Odia Ofeimun, a poet and the former president of Association of Nigerian Authors. “Just when we were learning to argue with him, he died.”
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, described him In a statement on Friday as “frank, truthful, and fearless.”
Mr. Achebe’s literary works dealt with African traditions as well as highlighting the problem of the continent’s political leadership. His blunt criticisms of successive Nigerian governments, twice turning down offers for a national honor, earned him respect from many Nigerians. “He was never afraid to speak his mind. Achebe was a man who understood where he stood,” said Nnimmo Bassey, the poet and environmental activist.
In 1981, Mr. Achebe was instrumental in the founding of the Association of Nigerian Authors, with him as the founding president. He was also the founding editor of the African Writers Series, which published work by Nadine Gordimer, Stephen Biko and others. “That also speaks of his ability to spot talent,” said Toni Kan, award winning poet and short story writer.
“Things Fall Apart,” published in 1958, when he was 28, was his most famous literary work, translated into more than 45 languages and selling over 10 million copies. His other books – “A Man of the People,” “Arrow of God,” “No Longer At Ease” and “Chike and the River” among others – were also considered literary gems by many, highlighting his superb craftsmanship. “Everybody would say that his books were very primary to our understanding of our culture as well as examining and understanding of our current political manifestation,” said Mr. Bassey.
In ‘There Was A Country,” published in 2012, Mr. Achebe, 82, chronicled his personal experience as well as his views on the Nigerian civil war, a war in which hundreds of thousands of people of his ethnic origin (Igbo) were killed. The book eliciting heated reactions across Nigeria.
“I don’t like the fact that that last book came. It gave us a reason to treat Achebe like a human being, with frailties,” said Mr. Ofeimun, who wrote a scathing review of the book. “The book was a disappointment. It was filled with vicious untruths that made me wonder if he read it before it was published.”
He added: “It was a painful letdown. That book showed that he was human like the rest of us.”
But Mr. Kan said that the Mr. Achebe’s last book was misunderstood. “He was saying that as a country, we had potentials which we did not realize.”
During his lifetime, Achebe wrote, co-wrote or edited over 18 books including five novels. He was a recipient of more than 20 honorary doctorate degrees from universities across the world.
“Achebe said ‘You dance the dance of your time.’ He danced the dance of his time,” said Mr. Kan. “I don’t see the present crop of writers stepping into his shoes.”