Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria, the son of Isaiah Okafor Achebe, a teacher in a missionary school, and Janet Ileogbunam. His parents, though they installed in him many of the values of their traditional Igbo culture, were devout evangelical Protestants and christened him Albert after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
In 1944 Achebe attended Government College in Umuahia. Like other major Nigerian writers including Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi, John Okigbo, John Pepper Clark, and Cole Omotso, he was also educated at the University College of Ibadan, where he studied English, history and theology. At the university Achebe contributed several stories and essays to its magazine, University Herald. Rejecting his British name Achebe took his indigenous name Chinua. In 1953 he graduated with a BA. Before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS, later changed to Nigerian Broadcasting Corporarion, or NBC) in Lagos in 1954 he travelled in Africa and America, and worked for a short time as a teacher at a local school in Oba. For a period in the 1960s he was the director of External Services in charge of the Voice of Nigeria. In 1961 he married Christie Chinwe Okoli, who came from Umuokpu village in Awka. They had four children. Christie Achebe, a psychologist, took her degree in London, and was a visiting professor of psychology at Bard College.
Achebe’s writings reflect his deep personal disappointment with what Nigeria became since independence. Many of his poems written during the war were collected in BEWARE, SOUL BROTHER (1971), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.
While holding the post of Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he met there James Baldwin, also a faculty member. Returning to Nigeria in 1976, Achebe was appointed research fellow at the University, and after serving as professor of English, he retired in 1981. Since 1985, Achebe has been a professor emeritus. In the 1990s Achebe taught literature to undergraduates at Bard College, a liberal arts school.
Achebe wrote his first novel, THINGS FALL APART (1958), while working as the head of NBS. The story of a traditional village “big man” Okonkwo, and his downfall has been translated into some 50 languages.
Also ARROW OF GOD (1964) concerned traditional Igbo life as it clashed with colonial powers in the form of missionaries and colonial government.
A MAN OF THE PEOPLE (1966) was a satire of corruption and power struggles in an African state.
Among Achebe’s later works is ANTHILLS OF THE SAVANNAH (1987), a polyvocal story with multiple narrators, which was set in an imaginary West African state of Kangan, a thinly veiled Nigeria.
Achebe has also written collections of short stories, poetry, and several books for juvenile readers. He has received a Margaret Wrong Prize, the New Statesman Jock Campbell Prize, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and the 2007 Man Booker International award.
As the director of Heineman Educational Books in Nigeria, he has encouraged and published the work of dozens of African writers.
As an essayist Achebe has gained fame with his collections MORNING YET ON CREATION DAY (1975), HOPES AND IMPEDIMENTS (1988) and his long essay THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA (1983).
Achebe has defined himself as a cultural nationalist with a revolutionary mission “to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement.”
When the 70th birthday of the patriarch of the modern African novel was celebrated at Bard College, on November 2000, Wole Soyinka said: achebe never hesitates to lay the blame for Africa’s woes where it belongs.