The depth and enduring literary value of Chinua Achebe’s seminal novel Things Fall Apart should challenge younger writers in Africa to live up to the challenge of maintaining and even surpassing the expectations already raised by Achebe. If Achebe’s seminal work has remained a book for all times, it was because of the author’s originality and creativity as seen in his exploitation of local scenes, characters, cultural traditions, history as well as oral lore to mold a language that captures the feel and verbal texture of Igbo through the medium of English and thus put his own story in the international arena of stories. Younger African novelists to attain this enviable height should sufficiently exert their imagination to produce original works whose appeal will outlive the fancies and idiosyncrasies of the moment as Achebe did.
As a timely response to the colonial biases about the African continent purveyed through the works of some Europeans, the novel provides a counterpoise demolishing foreign assumptions and presumptions about Africa. As a mirror of the conflict of culture that then ensued as a consequence of Europe’s discovery, invasion and partition of Africa, the novel explored a thematic concern that was at the heart of African Literature of the 20th century.
But what has marked Achebe’s effort out is the universality of his perspective. All over the world, accounts of foreign cultures and attitudes are usually distorted when the story is told from the point of view of an outsider. Under such a situation, it would normally take the penetrating insight of an informed native to present the facts of the matter in a fair and objective way.
Thus, if the Joyce Carys and Joseph Conrads of Europe who took more than a cursory interest in Africa painted a picture of land peopled by primitive African personalities or entertained the reader with an outlandish story of a dark continent replete with horrendous deeds, it took a systematic deconstruction and reconstruction as Achebe undertook in his maiden novel Things Fall Apart to see through the lies and know the truth about Africa.
Given the fame and popularity that the novel has achieved over the years, it will not be out of place to say that it has even grown well beyond Achebe’s imagination and expectation. Across the universities of the world, the book is now a staple in the study of the humanities, with whole libraries of theses and dissertations been written on it as a timeless piece of literature whose appeal and penetration continues to grow and increase with the passage of time.
It is through the profundity of the book as well as the scope and depth of the author’s imagination, that the book has remained an all-time classic. The issues it dwelt on 50 years ago have continued to resonate with freshness and greater appeal, remaining as relevant today as they were when the novel was first written. In its 50th year therefore, the literary world is standing tall and proud to associate itself, with a book that anybody with genuine claims not just to liberal education but to literacy ought to read. Consequently, global acclaim and honour are being lavished on a book that one could justly say is in a class of its own.
Several international events in about fifteen countries are planned, some even already executed or ongoing to mark the 50th Anniversary of Achebe’s seminal novel, Things Fall Apart this year.
The University of London’s School of Advanced Study, Institute of English Studies is hosting a two-day conference entitled “Things Fall Apart, 1958-2008 from October 11-12”. The progress of Things Fall Apart the conference organisers state, was an inspiration for writers and readers not only on the African continent but throughout the world. “Fifty years later, this conference seeks to revisit that novel and assess its significance then and now.”
Elsewhere in Europe, major conferences are planned for Portugal, France and Sweden. European radio stations, book clubs and literary organizations are also planning events to span the year.
In Asia the Indian Council for Cultural Relations’ announced a “seminar to mark the world wide celebrations,of the 50th year of its publication to be organized by Department of English, Osmania University, Hyderabad, during 2008.” Other events are planned for Singapore and China in the course of the Year.
In America, several events are planned for Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, New York City, Houston, Texas, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Annandale, New York, USA.
Bard College, in Annandale, New York, Achebe’s current base, is planning a major international conference and a series of other events throughout the year.
The Canadians also have a conference and literary events scheduled for later in the Year.
Princeton University, one of America’s oldest and most distinguished citadels of higher learning will be reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in the third installment of Princeton Reads, the biannual one-book, and one community event. The Ivy League institution selected Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s portrait of the effects of British colonialism and Christianity in turn of the century Nigeria, “to unite the community through this extraordinary work of literature,” said Readers Services Librarian Kristin Pehnke, the coordinator. The event is co-sponsored by Labyrinth Books and the Centre for African American Studies at Princeton University. Dorothea von Moltke of Labyrinth expressed delight that Achebe will honor them with his presence. While encouraging everyone in Princeton to read the book during March, 2008, the library presented a variety of programmes to keep the community listening, watching and discussing, culminating with a visit from the author on March 26. An assortment of programmes from lectures to film screenings to poetry readings are in the works. There will also be several arts programmes, some of which will pay homage to the African oral tradition. Community merchants and organizations are to sponsor book groups, at the library and at off-site locations so that there is ample opportunity for discussion, Pehnke said.
The Association of Nigerian Authors (of which Achebe is founding president) held a two-day series of activities. It has organized an international colloquium with the theme, “Telling the African Story”.The major event of the anniversary, an international colloquium was held at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with two keynote speakers: the Kenyan writer, Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and the Nigerian scholar, Prof. Ernest Emenyonu. The colloquium involved the invitation of foreign writers and scholars such as Nurrudin Farah of Somalia, Ayi Kwei Armah of Ghana, Lewis Nkosi of South Africa, Professor Charles Larson in the USA, who were to present papers and talks as well as scholars on Achebe in Nigerian universities were also to present papers. Fifteen other distinguished writers and scholars from all over the world were to participate
There were plenary sessions on the theme of the celebration by foreign and local scholars, book exhibitions, visit to historical places like where Achebe stayed when he wrote Things Fall Apart, special auction of early copies of the book, screening of NTA adaptation of Things Fall Apart, and dramatic enactments of Achebe’s novels on stage etc.
The celebration began with an interactive session at the National Theatre Complex, Lagos, with the speakers drawn from well known writers and academics in Nigeria. The chair of ANA Lagos, moderated the occasion, which was chaired by Chief Segun Olusola.
An evening of dance tributes by the National Troupe of Nigeria concluded the day’s session. The celebration shifted to NTA, Abuja, where the guest speaker, Mrs. Eugenia Abu, led a discussion on the topic, “Things Fall Apart and the Nigerian Child”. Quiz, spelling and reading competitions among invited secondary school students; screening of NTA production of Things Fall Apart, role modelling session by teenage authors, poetry performances, and variety shows, are among the activities lined up.
A symposium on the theme of the celebration took place at the popular Trenchard Hall, University of Ibadan, with, Prof. Sham Sudeen O.O. Amali, former vice chancellor, University of Ilorin; Dr. Festus Iyayi, University of Benin; Dr. Reuben Abati, The Guardian newspaper, Lagos; and Miss Tayo Ajayi, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife as speakers.
Things Fall Apart was on stage, along with a performance of Biyi Bandele’s adaptation by the Jos Repertory Theatre at the Cultural Centre, Mokola Ibadan.
There was an excursion to Ogidi, Achebe’s ancestral home, and visits to historical places in Anambra State,ending with a luncheon by Anambra State Government in the afternoon.
The highpoint of the celebration was the night of Griots at Awka, Anambra State, in the evening with the griots including Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Okara, Jimi Solanke, Elechi Amadi, Chukwuemeka Ike, Labo Yari, Mabel Segun, Demas Nwoko, J.P. Clark, Okey Ndibe and Femi Osofisan..
Other events included opening cocktails, performance of the winning entry of the playwriting competition on Achebe’s work apart from TFA, relaunching of Okike: Journal of African New Writings founded by Achebe, and award dinners. An art competition, involved the creation of a poster around the theme, “Achebe and Things Fall Apart @ 50”.The chosen poster will be reproduced in thousands and distributed internationally, especially to schools and libraries.The posters will also be selected for an exhibition to take place during the celebration.
ANA having sought and got the consent of Prof Achebe saw that. “He and his family are very thrilled about the whole arrangement. ” and kept in regular touch with the family through Chidi Achebe, one of the icon’s sons.
In addition, several events are also planned to occur in South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Ghana and The Gambia.
USAfrica has also honored 50 Years of Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece ‘THINGS FALL APART’ by holding the 2008 ‘USAfrica international Harvest of Achebe’, in Houston, Texas on August 8 and 9, 2008 with special events including critical insights, harvest of ideas, international reviews of the epic work, theatrical and cultural performances in honor of the father of modern African literature Achebe and presenting to him. The ‘USAfrica BEST OF AFRICA’ 1st Lifetime Award .
The Houston-based USAfrica (characterized by The New York Times as the largest and most influential African-owned, U.S-based multimedia networks) was celebrating the 15th Anniversary of its pioneering multimedia leadership of the bi-continental interests of Africans and Americans. The convener and chief host was Chido Nwangwu, the Founder & Publisher of USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com, AchebeBooks.com, Azikiwe.org, AchebeThingsFallApart.com, CLASSmagazine, The Black Business Journal, BBJonline.com,, etc
In the United States, a world class literary gala tribute hosted by a U.S book publisher, Anchor Books Bard College and PEN American Centre was held at the historic New York City Town Hall to mark the book’s anniversary. A 50th anniversary edition of the book has also been published by Achor Books in recognition of “one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim”. The publishers are also celebrating through the novel, the most illuminating and permanent moment in the pantheon of modern African experience as seen from within.Toni Morrison and Hia Jin were amongst the celebrities there.
Africans in the Diaspora have a number of events planned as well. Obiwu Iwuanyanwu, of the Writing Centre, Central State University Wilberforce, Ohio, USA, is organizing a major critical appraisal of Achebe’s ground breaking novel. Iwuanyanwu reports: “To mark the half a century milestone of the literary path-breaker in 2008, scholars, researchers, teachers, students, professionals, and general readers are invited to submit articles for a multiple volume critical anthology on Things Fall Apart. Contributors are encouraged to be innovative and adventurous in their exploration, with the singular aim of eliciting the novel’s uniqueness, impact, influence, and continuity.Among others, submissions may consider Things Fall Apart in relation : Discourse and theory, Diaspora and alienation, race and globalization, gender and sexuality, and minority, Environment and the animal, Language and linguistics, Influences and historicism, Art and visual culture, Culture and hospitality, Communication and Comparison, Space and Science.amongst others.”
Editors of will include Victor O. Aire, , University of Jos, ; S. O. O. Amali, Vice Chancellor/President, University of Ilorin, ; Glen P. Bush, , Heartland Community College, Normal, IL, US; Augustine-Ufua Enahoro, , Univ. of Jos, ; Okey Ndibe, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, US Obiwu, Writing Center, Central State University, Wilberforce, OH, US; Olu Oguibe, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, US; Kanchana Ugbabe, , University of Jos.
The entire package is a literary harvest celebrating Achebe’s creativity and imagination but serving as a springboard for the inspiration of the young to aspire to be like Achebe.