Chinua Achebe, the Man Who Put Things Together for Millions, Is Dead

The author of Things Fall Apart had an influence on African writing that is "impossible" to determine, but he shaped the way the world thinks about the continent.

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Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, the author of the landmark novel Things Fall Apart, has died at the age of 82. The Associated Press reports that he had a brief illness.

Achebe's canonical work, the story of an Ibo man named Okonkwo, was published in 1958 and sold at least 10 million copies. Per the AP's Hillel Italie, African scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah once said that it is "impossible" to determine just how much the book has influenced African writing because it would be "like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians. Achebe didn't only play the game, he invented it." Achebe discussed the book in 2010 with Deborah Solomon of the New York Times Magazine:

It’s a staple of American high-school English classes, and it has supposedly sold more than eight million copies. 
That would be possible. I’m not grumbling; I have done well. But don’t imagine I’m a millionaire.

But in addition to writing a classic text himself, Achebe also helped shaped the way we read about Africa in other ways. The Wall Street Journal's obituary notes that in 1975 Achebe was responsible for the decline in influence of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: "Steadily, Mr. Conrad's share of university reading lists fell as Mr. Achebe's rose." 

The push and pull of Western and African cultures was a theme in Achebe's life. The AP's Italie writes: "He spoke of the 'two types of music' running through his mind— Ibo legends and the prose of Dickens." Due to turmoil in his native Nigeria, Achebe often lived away from the country. He became paralyzed from the waist down in 1990 after a car accident.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.