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Chinua Achebe Moves from Bard to Brown

AchebeThings Fall ApartGirls at War and Other StoriesAlert! African literary giant Chinua Achebe has a new academic home. After nineteen years of holding court at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York state, the great man of letters is rumbling due east and will settle in for a stint at the Ivy League Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island state, starting this northern-hemisphere fall.

Achebe joins Brown’s Department of Africana Studies (an odd word, “Africana”, to use in an academic context, isn’t it?), where he will launch the Chinua Achebe Colloquium, meant to be a “vibrant venue for an array of projects ranging from conferences on governance in Africa to dramatic readings and stagings of his works, classroom lectures, projects on the politics of language and translation as well as invited distinguished lecturers”. One wonders if the new, Achebe-sanctioned Penguin African Writers Series will feature as well.

Needless to say, the folks in Providence are excited. Here’s the city’s daily paper on the move:

The acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, author of the 1958 classic “Things Fall Apart,” will join the Brown University faculty as the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and a professor of Africana studies, the school announced.

Achebe, 78, will serve in Brown’s Department of Africana Studies. “We are honored and thrilled to welcome Professor Achebe to Africana studies and to the Brown community,” Tricia Rose, the department’s chair, said in a statement. “He is a towering figure in African literature and post-colonial thought. We will benefit enormously from his ongoing insights into the necessity and complexity of global, cross-racial translations and exchanges.”

And here’s the response from the Brown campus paper:

Despite what your high school English teachers may have led you to believe, he’s more than just “Things Fall Apart.” He’s a poet and an essayist, a national hero and a Man Booker Prize winner. More importantly, though, he’s a teacher.

In 1965, Chinua Achebe wrote an essay in which he outlines the relationship between the novelist and his audience. Regarding his own relationship with the Nigerian people, he writes, “I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past — with all its imperfections — was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” In Achebe’s own mind, he was a teacher long before he was a professor — before he was a novelist, even.

There is a reason Achebe has elected to teach Africana studies, rather than, say, Literary Arts. He views his writing as “applied art, as distinct from pure art” and believes that art and education are not mutually exclusive. “After all,” he writes, “the novelist’s duty is not to beat this morning’s headline in topicality, it is to explore in depth the human condition. In Africa he cannot perform this task unless he has a proper sense of history.”

Finally, here’s the official word from Brown’s Tricia Rose (chair of Africana Studies):

We are honored and thrilled to welcome Professor Achebe to Africana Studies and to the Brown community. Achebe is a towering figure in African literature and postcolonial thought. Achebe’s status as a world-class writer consolidates our already prodigous literary strengths. Chinua Achebe completes our quartet of highly distinguished writers: Ama Ata Aidoo, George Lamming and John Edgar Wideman.

Congratulations to Brown and Achebe on this new development!

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