Humanities 211
Culture(s) & Literature of Africa
(Oral Arts &  Film)
Cora Agatucci

6 October 1998: Learning Resources

Chinua Achebe In His Own Words
On the Value & Functions of Literature and Storytelling,
Works by Chinua Achebe, Interviews with Chinua Achebe
URL of this page:

Note: Interpretative summaries is this section are Cora Agatucci's

"...only the story...can continue beyond the war and the warrior.
It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters.
It is the story...that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars
into the spikes of the cactus fence.
The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.
Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story;
rather it is the story that owns us and directs us.
--Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (1987)

From "What Has Literature Got to Do with It," collected in Hopes and Impediments (1988):

"Literature, whether handed down by word or mouth or in print, gives us a second handle on reality." Achebe believes that literature has social and political importance. It is much more than a creative ornament. It provides a necessary critical perspective on everyday experience, educates us on the meaning of our actions and offers us greater control over our social and personal lives. According to Achebe, literature works by "enabling us to encounter in the safe, manageable dimensions of make-believe the very same threats to integrity that may assail the psyche in real life; and at the same time providing through the self-discovery which it imparts a veritable weapon for coping with these threats whether they are found within our problematic and incoherent selves or in the world around us."

From "The Novelist as Teacher," collected in Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) & Hopes and Impediments (1988):

Achebe represents a particular reality: a modern Africa whose rich variety of ethnic and cultural identities is complicated by the impact of European colonialism. Read by Western audiences, works like Things Fall Apart are intended to challenge stereotypes of Africans as primitive savages, and present the complexities of African societies, with their alternative sets of traditions, ideals, values, and behaviors. Achebe is even more dismayed, however, to see Africans themselves internalizing these stereotypes and turn away from their cultures to emulate supposedly superior white European civilizations. So Achebe describes a dual mission to educate both African and European readers, to reinstate a sense of pride in African cultures and "to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of years of denigration and self-abasement."

(As Paul Brians explains, the "most striking feature [of Things Fall Apart] is to create a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional village culture in Africa. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering.

"He also fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated 'primitive' land, the "heart of darkness," as Conrad calls it. Throughout the novel he shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time. Look for instances of these variations as you read.

"As a young boy the ‘African literature’ he was taught consisted entirely of works by Europeans about Africa, such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, which portrays a comic African who slavishly adores his white colonist boss, to the point of gladly being shot to death by him. Achebe has said that it was his indignation at this latter novel that inspired the writing of Things Fall Apart. Try to see in what ways his novel answers Cary's. He also wrote a famous attack ["An Image of Africa" ] on the racism of Heart of Darkness which continues to the subject of heated debate."

See also "Achebe's Fiction and Contemporary Nigerian Politics" by George P. Landow (Prof. of English and Art History, Brown Univ), based on Contemporary Authors] - Achebe "states his mission in his essay 'The Novelist as Teacher': 'Here is an adequate revolution for me to espouse -- to help my society regain belief in itself and to put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement. And it is essentially a question of education, in the best sense of that word. Here, I think, my aims and the deepest aspirations of society meet.'"

From "The African Writer and the English Language" (1964), collected in Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975):

Achebe’s goals cannot be realized by a simple return to a pre-colonial African age. He believes African society has been irrevocably changed by the colonial era. Achebe chooses to write in English and use Western forms of literary expression, unlike other African writers who reject the colonizers’ languages (e.g., English, French) and other vestiges of colonial influence. For example, Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya) chooses now to write and create only in his native Gikuyu language to build up an indigenous literature and "orature" (oral and performance arts). Achebe says he chooses to write in "African English" to express "a new voice coming out of Africa, speaking of African experience in a world-wide language. So my answer to the question, Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker? I should say, I hope not. . . . The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience."

Like many other "postcolonial" writers from India, Africa, and other formerly colonized nations of the world, Achebe attempts to construct an image of Africa in a language that respects the national traditions of his native land while recognizing the demands of a cosmopolitan, international audience to whom Things Fall Apart is, in part, addressed. Achebe aims to reclaim his heritage and at the same time indicate directions for constructive change. He writes at a time when countries are adapting to a global economy and responding to pressures for reform and international cooperation, yet Achebe is keenly aware of the dangers of reactionary forms of nationalism and the desire for absolute power that, in Nigeria and elsewhere, have blocked reform and given dictators unrestrained rule.

For Achebe, the transition to a new kind of postcolonial world should not abandon the old; and the repository of the old, the vital means to bring the old to meet the new, is the story. "The story is our escort," a character is Achebe’s novel Anthills of the Savannah says; "without it, we are blind . . . ." The story embodies a tradition that can adapt to the new; the problem Achebe confronts is that of preserving national and cultural identity in the face of the inevitable blending of different cultures, yet preserving that identity in a way that does not reject--and can benefit.

References to the novel are from the edition used in Hum 211: Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. [1958.] Expanded edition with notes. London: Heinemann, 1996. See the "Suggestions for Further Reading," pp. lvi-lviii, in this edition.

Some of the above questions have been adapted or quoted from the Study Guide and Notes on Things Fall Apart (1996; of Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020 [].

"The world is big. Some people are unable to comprehend that simple fact.
They want the world on their own terms, its peoples just like them and their friends,
its places like the manicured little patch on which they live.
But this is a foolish and blind wish.
Diversity is not an abnormality but the very reality of our planet.
The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek our permission
to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless varieties.
Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have;
narrowness of heart and mind is not."
--Chinua Achebe, Bates College Commencement Address 27 May 1996


Works by Chinua Achebe

"Africa Is People" [Speech by Chinua Achebe, given at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France, 1989].  Massachusetts Review 40.3 (Autumn 1999): 309 (12pp).  Full text available from EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite, Article No.   2469051.

"Africa's Tarnished Name."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 105-117.

"The African Writer and the Biafran Cause."  Kroniek van Afrika 8 (1968): 65-70; Conch 1.1 (1969): 8-14.  Rpt. in Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 78-84.

"The African Writer and the English Language."  Moderna Sprak 58 (1964): 438-446; Transition 18 (1965): 27-30.  Rpt. in Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 55-62.

"Agostinho Neto."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 36-37.

Anthills of the Savannah. 1987. New York : Doubleday, 1989. [COCC Library: PR9387.9.A]

Arrow of God. 1964. New York : Anchor Books, 1989. [COCC Library: PR9387.9.A3 A88 1989]

"The Black Writer's Burden."  Presence africaine 59 (1966): 135-140.

Beware Soul Brother and Other Poems. London: Heinemann, 1972. Rpt. as Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1973. During the civil war in Nigeria, Chinua Achebe found poetry a means of expressing his distress, though few of the poems speak only indirectly of the war. See essay on The Biafran War, by Minna Song.

"Butterfly."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 64-65.

"Chi in Igbo Cosmology."  In Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 93-103.

"Colonialist Criticism."  In Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day.  Rpt. in Achebe, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, 68-90.

The Drum. 1977. Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann, 1988.

The Flute. 1977. Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann, 1990.

"Flying."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 88-89.

Foreward.  African Prose I: Traditional Oral Texts.  Ed. W. H. Whiteley.  London: Clarendon, 1964.  vii-xi.

Girls at War and Other Stories. London: Heinemann, 1972.

Home and Exile.  W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Series.  New York: Oxford, 2000. [Based on three lectures Achebe gave at Harvard Univ. in 1998.]

Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays. 1988.  New York : Anchor-Doubleday, 1990. [COCC Library: PR9387.9.A3 H6 1990]

"An Image of Africa."  Massachusetts Review 18 (1977): 782-794.

"An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness."  In Achebe, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, 1-20.  Rpt. Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticism. 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. 251-262.

"Knowing Robs Us."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 22-23.

"Language and the Destiny of Man."  In Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 30-37.

A Man of the People. London: Heinemann, 1966.

Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. London: Heinemann, 1975.  [Currently out of print, but five of its important essays are reprinted in Hopes and Impediments“The Novelist as Teacher” (1965), “Language and the Destiny of Man” (1972) “Named for Victoria, Queen of England” (1973), “Thoughts on the African Novel” (1973), and “Colonialist Criticism” (1974). ]

"A Mother in a Refuge Camp."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 12-13.

"Named for Victoria, Queen of England."  New Letters 40.1 (1973): 15-22.  Rpt. in Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 65-70; and in Achebe, Hopes and Impediments 20-26.

"The Nigeria Chief and the Census."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 76-77.

No Longer at Ease. 1960. London & Portsmouth, N.H. : Heinemann Educational, 1987. [COCC Library: PR6051.C5 N6 1987]

"The Novelist as Teacher."  New Statesman 29 Jan. 1965: 161-162.  Rpt. in Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 42-45; and in Achebe, Hopes and Impediments 27-31.

"The Role of the Writer in a New Nation." African Writers on African Writing. Ed. G. D. Killam. Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1973.

The Sacrificial Egg and Other Short Stories. Onitsha: Etudo Ltd., 1962.

"The Song of Ourselves."  New Statesman & Society, 9 Feb 1990: 30(3pp). Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP Article A8549267

"Teaching Things Fall Apart."  In Approaches to Teaching Achebe's Things Fall Apart.  Ed. Bernth Lindfors.  Approaches to Teaching World Literature Series: 37.  New York:  Modern Language Association, 1991.  20-24.

Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann, 1958.  New York:  Astor-Honor, 1959.  New York : Fawcett Crest-Ballantine, 1959. [COCC Library: PR6051.C5 T5 1959] African Writers Series.  London: Heinemann Educational, 1962.   London & Portsmouth, N.H. : Heinemann, 1986. [COCC Library: PR6051.C5 T5 1986] Expanded edition with notes. London: Heinemann, 1996. [Edition used in Hum 211]  See also Things Fall Apart Study Guide.

"Thoughts on the African Novel."  In Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day 49-54.

The Trouble with Nigeria. Enugu: Fourth Dimension, 1983; London: Heinemann, 1985. "The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership," Achebe concludes.

"Viewpoint."  Times Literary Supplement 1 Feb. 1980: 113.  Rpt. as "Impediments to Dialogue between North and South" in Achebe, Hopes and Impediments 14-19.

"A Wake for Okigbo."  In Another Africa.  Photographs by Robert Lyons, Essay and Poems by Chinua Achebe.  New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1998. 48-49.

"The Writer and His Community."  In Achebe, Hopes and Impediments 32-41.


Interviews with Chinua Achebe

Achebe, Chinua.  "Africa Is People."  Massachusetts Review 40.3 (Autumn 1999): 309 (12pp).  EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite: Article No. 2469051.  
Abstract:  "Presents the text of the speech delivered by African novelist Chinua Achebe at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France in 1989 which deals with the African economy."

Bacon, Katie"An African Voice"  [Interview with Chinua Achebe.]  Interviews: Atlantic Unbound 2 Aug. 2000.  The Atlantic Online, 2000. (accessed 8 Mar 2001).

Baker, Rob, and Ellen Draper. "'If one thing stands, another will stand beside it': An Interview with Chinua Achebe." [The Oral Tradition issue.] Parabola 17.3(Fall 1992): 19(9pp). Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP Article A12603141
"Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe discusses the importance of storytelling and the oral tradition in the education of children. Achebe tells a story of Tortoise, the trickster in Igbo tradition, and describes aspects of the traditional Igbo world view. Gender roles among the Igbo and the role of the griots, professional storytellers, are also discussed."

Brooks, Jerome. "The Art of Fiction." [Interview with Chinua Achebe.] The Paris Review 35.133(Winter 1994): 142(25pp). Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP Article A16837922
Abstract: "Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe explains in an interview that his interest in stories about life and adventure on other lands prompted him to choose a career in writing. He claims that his realization of the need to record both the good and bad aspects of life encouraged him to become a writer. His broad range of interests include varied fields of knowledge such as english, science, history and religion. He believes in the coexistence of art and humanity, and criticizes ethnic practices that do not conform to moral and social norms."
Also try online: "The Art of Fiction": Interview with Chinua Achebe (Jerome Brooks) The Paris Review, Issue 133 (1994) :

Conference: "Home and Exile: Achebe at 70" in Celebration of Chinua Achebe's 70th Birthday, 3-4 Nov. 2000, Bard College: incl. author's works, awards, prizes, lectures, honorary doctorates; speakers: Nuruddin Farah, Nadine Gordimer, Ali Mazrui, Toni Morrison, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Wole Soyinka. 
..."Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: A Tribute to V.C. Ike at 70," by Chinua Achebe, 4 May 2001 Bard College, New York (Rpt. USAfricaOnline, Houston, TX): 
..."Literary Giant Chinua Achebe Returns 'Home' from U.S., to Love and Adulation of Community," by Chido Nwangwu
on Achebe's return to Ogidi, Anambra State, Nigeria. (Rpt. USAfricaOnline, Houston, TX): 

Coeyman, Marjorie.  "Going Home Was a Sad Awakening."  Christian Science Monitor 6 Jan. 2000: 17.  Full text available from EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite, Article No. 2649262.  Abstract:  "Focuses on the author Chinua Achebe and his relationship to his homeland of Nigeria following a visit to the country during the summer of 2000."

Ezenwo-Ohaeto. Chinua Achebe: A Biography. Indiana Univ. Press, 1997.
The first comprehensive account of this major writer's life to date, placing Achebe's life and work in the context of African history. Ezenwa-Ohaeto, a poet and writer and former student of Achebe, spent 15 years researching and writing this comprehensive summary of Achebe's life: See Africa News Online's "
Chinua Achebe's Biography Published" (28 Nov. 1997):

Feldman, Gayle. "Chinua Achebe: Views of Home from Afar."  [Interview.]   Publishers Weekly 3 July 2000.  Rpt.

"Africa now... Yes, there's disappointment, pain, sorrow. But I say to myself, when was it in the last 500 years that Africa has not been in great pain and sorrow and disappointment? The answer is, very rarely.

"There's an Igbo proverb that says of a particular kind of rodent we have--the grass cutter, which when chewing through the grass makes a lot of noise--even if there's only one of them left, you'll hear this sound. That's a rather grim kind of hope, but the alternative is to give up and kill yourself. I don't like that option.

"You celebrate whatever achievement you can. Somebody asked me recently how I could talk about African literature as a celebration in view of Africa's problems. I said that I'm simply basing my attitude on something very old in my culture. We had celebrations where there were carvings of the white district officer, of the earth goddess, of the gods of thunder and of smallpox. If you don't bring terrifying characters into your celebration, they'll be out there plotting something else. You bring them in and keep an eye on them."

--Chinua Achebe, qtd. "Chinua Achebe: Views of Home from Afar"

Jeyifo, Biodun. "The Author's Art." [Interview with Chinua Achebe] World Press Review Jan 1985: 58(2pp). Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP Article A3583118.

Lindfors, Bernth, ed. Conversations With Chinua Achebe. Literary Conversations Series. Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1997.

Morell, Karen L., ed. In Person: Achebe, Awoonor, Soyinka. Seattle: University of Washington African Studies Program, 1975.

Moyers, Bill. "Chinua Achebe." Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas. Ed. Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Doubleday, 1989. 333-44.

Chinua Achebe [videorecording].  Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas.  Prod. & dir. Gail Pellett ; Public Affairs Television, Inc.  Princeton, NJ : Films for the Humanities [distributor], 1994.  [COCC Humanities Dept. holding & ORBIS PR9387.9.A3 Z513 1994]  Abstract:  Originally broadcast on PBS, September, 1988, as a segment of A World of Ideas.  "Bill Moyers interviews Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe who discusses the West's often inaccurate portrayal of Africa and how it is the African storyteller's obligation to be the collective memory of the African people."

"The Next Nigeria."  New Republic 22 March 1999: 9.  Full text available from EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite, Article No. 1610344.  Abstract:  "Examines the significance of the election of Nigerian President Matthew Olusegun Obasanjo in March, 1999. Obasanjo's plans in 1979 for Nigeria to be one of the leading nations of the world; Response from Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe to Obasanjo's plans; Nigeria's poor conditions; Role of Nigeria in African stability and economic progress; Need for Nigeria to build democratic institutions and combat corruption; Role of the United States."

Ogbaa, Kalu. "An Interview with Chinua Achebe." Research in African Literatures 12.1 (1981).

Onishi, Norimitsu.  "Nigerian Writer Returns after 9-Year Absence."  New York Times 25 August 1999: A5.  EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite, Article No. 2236511.  Abstract:  "Reports on the return of Chinua Achebe, author of the novel `Things Fall Apart,' to Nigeria in 1999 after a nine-year exile. Reason for leaving Nigeria; Implications of his arrival; Background on his novel."

Rowell, Charles H. "An Interview with Chinua Achebe." Callaloo 13.1 (1990). Achebe discusses the African storyteller as griot in this interview: "the role of the writer, the modern writer, is closer to that of the griot, the historian and poet, than any other practitioner of the arts" (18).

Samway, Patrick H. "An Interview with Chinua Achebe." America, 22 June 1991: 684(3pp). Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP Article A10991109

Serumaga, Robert. "Interview [with Chinua Achebe]." African Writers Talking: A Collection of Interviews. Eds. Dennis Duerden and Cosmo Pieterse. London: Heinemann, 1972.


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