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The late Chinua Achebe remembered as giant of international literature

Nigerian novelist, essayist, and teacher Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, has died at the age of 82. Achebe reportedly died at a Boston hospital following a brief illness.

A statement from his family described Achebe as “one of the great literary voices of all time” and noted that he was “a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him.”

Assessments of the author’s legacy are already pouring in. The CBC writes that Achebe’s “eminence worldwide was rivaled only by Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison and a handful of others” and that “Achebe was a moral and literary model for countless Africans and a profound influence on such American writers as Morrison, Ha Jin and Junot Diaz.”

The CBC also quotes African scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah on the importance of the 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, which has become a staple in North American schools: “It would be impossible to say how Things Fall Apart influenced African writing once observed…. It would be like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians. Achebe didn’t only play the game, he invented it.”

In its preliminary obituary, The New York Times describes Achebe as “black Africa’s most widely read novelist and one of the continent’s towering men of letters.” An earlier interview with the author explains that Achebe came to live permanently in the U.S. following a 1990 car accident in Nigeria that left the author paralyzed from the waist down. In 2010, Achebe told the Times:

… [T]he most important thing about myself is that my life has been full of changes. Therefore, when I observe the world, I don’t expect to see it just like I was seeing the fellow who lives in the next room. There is this complexity which seems to me to be part of the meaning of existence and everything we value.

Achebe’s final novel, his fifth, was 1987’s Anthills of the Savannah. Since then his writing has included essays and a memoir, There Was a Country. Achebe was also a noted literary critic and, until his death, had been a professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I.