“For me, there are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that, you have an overpowering urge to tell a story. The second; that you have information of a unique story waiting to come out… and third; which you learn in the process of becoming, is that you consider the whole project worth the considerable trouble—I have sometimes called it terms of imprisonment—you will have to endure to bring it to fruition.” —Prof. Chinua Achebe
Professor Chinua Achebe, when I first heard the breaking news on radio about your demise while travelling in trotro, (passenger car) I screamed so loud; out of obvious disbelief that got some curious passengers wanting to know what I heard through my earpiece to have made me disturb their peace. “I have just lost my father!” was my respond through clenched teeth. “Ohhh… sad to hear” and “please accept my sympathy” were the emotional consolations I got. Did I say my father? Yes! My father, I said! I guess I should have said ‘my grandfather.’
Well, I did not scream because I thought you were too young to answer the call of your Maker but rather too endowed to. I thought upcoming writers like me who have always had you as a role model still have a lot to learn from you before finally joining your ancestors. Many I heard say “An iroko tree has fallen in Nigeria” while others prefer to describe it as “global calamity.” I would want to compliment it by saying “A world literary legend has gone to rest.” Is there any high school graduate who has not read your book; at least, “Things Fall Apart” which has been adjudged one of the 50 most influential books in the world for the past 50 years; or heard of you before in Africa; if not the world?
An Africana Studies lecturer, who penned his first book at age 26 and now eight additional great novels and children’s books, over eight short stories, six great poems and numerous articles; known and read all over Africa, must earn that title: ‘renowned writer/novelist/essayist/ poet.’ A writer whose first book; “Things Fall Apart” written in 1958 which has been translated into over 50 languages, and have so far sold over twelve million copies; is definitely one of the ‘A’ list world’s bestselling writers. A bestselling author who has won numerous prestigious awards, honours and accolades all over the world; including ‘The Man Booker International Prize,’ ‘The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for $300,000’ and the ‘Commonwealth Poetry Prize’ was really an award-winning writer. An award-winning writer and statesman whose name was never missing on the list of “World’s/ Africa’s Most Influential People” definitely must be a man of no mean reputation and an asset to the world. A writer and Pan-African of this acumen must have been loved by many; if not all. Even Nelson Mandela could not help but found solace in your writings while in prison. The 82 year old “man of many minds”, who has been a household name, with such an enviable and inspiring profile must be missed by all; when his Creator has finally beckoned him to come take the everlasting rest with Him in heaven.
I first got to know about you while in the primary school. With all the great stories we have been told of you, I was convinced you definitely must be the best Africa’s literary icon. I could not just wait for the day to lay my hand on your books to read. Quenching my impatience when I got to the junior high school, I first managed to read your “No Longer At Ease” and “Arrow of God,” though I was first looking forward to reading the most widely talked about: “Things Fall Apart.” As an aspiring writer at the time, I did not think twice before choosing you as my role model, by the time I finished reading you. I therefore decided to begin ‘studying’ your novels instead of just reading them. This, I must confess, was where I first found my writing voice and before I could really consciously get prepared to start writing a story, I had already grabbed a pen and exercise book to start writing the story; using your books as my blueprint and object of inspiration. Prof, though you once said “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own,” the irony is that, some of us were inspired to write our stories because we like yours! Today, just like how every African writer would mention you as their role model and mentor, we shall continue to look up to you; even in your grave. No wonder one of your protégées; Chimamanda Adichie Ngozie openly confessed that, “Really for me, “Things Fall Apart” completely changed my understanding of what literature was; it made me realise what a big house literature was and it had many rooms in which it hid the possibilities of literature which were limitless and that it was ok to write your own story.” You have led the way for us to follow. It is not for no reason that I always passionately declare during interviews that, I would one day, by hard work and the special grace of God, want to achieve it all in the literary industry and be recognised worldwide, just like you and the likes of Ghana’s Prof. Ama Atta Aidoo and Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o. You have really placed Nigeria and Africa on the world literary map. You have been an African; not just a Nigerian. Yes! Literature has really been your weapon! It is up to us the contemporary writers to follow your footsteps so that, even in your grave, you will have reasons to be proud of your impact on this generation. The legacy and pride you left are not a shadow but an unfailing reality. This generation will recognize and embrace the task you have peculiarly designed by history and by providence for us to perform. Your legacies will forever live with us. Even though the center could no longer hold for you while the falcon could still refuses to hear the falconer, it is refreshing and heartwarming to know that, your legacies will never fall apart.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said “If you would not want to be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Prof, you have not just written things worth reading to always be remembered with, but you have also done a lot worth writing about. You really are one of the few people who will be smiling in their graves while those of us around will be crying for you.
You will forever be remembered as the grandfather of African literature; that great writer who was one of the founding fathers of African literature. You will be remembered as that dynamic African writer who mainly uses rich and relevant African proverbs to convey his messages across in his writings. I remember watching one of your interviews some weeks ago and I cannot forget this proverb I picked from you to rule my life with: “The world is a world of dualities; it is good to be brave, but also remember that, the coward survives the brave man.” I still nod my head to it.
Prof, It is my fervent prayer that, as you are having your everlasting rest with your Maker, may your departure inspire and motivate Africans to develop greater love for the art and culture of Reading and Writing; this should be our own way of honouring you.
Papa of Literature, instead of just mourning you, some of us will also celebrate you. May your gentle soul find peace with the Good Lord in Heaven; and if you find pen and paper there, please still write for those of us who will one day join you, to come read and still enjoy. You have really been the man of the people. May your successors in good faith bear more glory!
Dear Sir, the space I have here is not just enough to contain all the songs to sing about you! Writers and readers will miss you; ‘Okonkwo’ and co will miss you; Nigeria will miss you; Africa will miss you; the world is missing you already!!! May your good works follow you. Meet, we shall again; someday. As the people of my tribe will put it, “Hede Nyuie!!!” From Ghana, we say “Damirifa Due” and the world; amidst tears with heavy heart, says “Rest in Perfect Peace!!!”
By: Sylvanus Bedzrah,
(Upcoming Ghanaian Writer.)