Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Turns 50 This Year

On the eve of his PEN American Center celebration, the Nigerian author sits down with the Voice.

Nothing of great worth comes easily? That's right. The lessons we learn, the wisdom we acquire, all come from this recognition. The nature of experience is heavy. So we shouldn't spend all our energy running away from the truth. This is why you cannot explain why there is suffering. It's there—you must recognize it, and engage it.

I know you survived the Nigerian civil war while supporting the Biafran secession. In retrospect, do you think it would have been better to have attempted some sort of United States of Nigeria, where Biafra might have had more cultural autonomy, yet remained part of Nigeria under a federal authority? That was actually what was proposed! The element that is absent from what you just said is that the British—who had granted independence to Nigeria and left—warned us they were not going to tolerate any fiddling with the Nigerian model they had created. That is what determined the fate of Biafra. 

‘The nature of experience is heavy’: Achebe
Brigitte Lacombe
‘The nature of experience is heavy’: Achebe

After teaching undergrads at a liberal-arts college like Bard for almost two decades, what have you concluded about using multicultural literature to eradicate racism and xenophobia? The number of children who are reading Things Fall Apart in high school has increased enormously, especially among the students who take my classes. For me, that's a very good sign. Because this generation has a lot of responsibility waiting for it. And how they link up with others their age in distant places may well determine how our civilization survives in this century.

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