Monday, 13 October 2008



They all came to see him.
At first he was perched by the door in a wheelchair. He was photographed, greeted, touched, stared at like something special, rare.

A fan seem not to want to miss any thing the great novelist was saying...

His family was present too. In fact his grandson took a photo with him on stage afterwards.

Authors make us curious.
We read them, travelling with their tales to places we never knew. To see them in flesh is always a surprise: they might be complete turn offs; could be timid, unappealing, charming, whatever; but they are still fascinating especially if we adore them like the huge crowd at SOAS last weekend.

People came from every corner of the world; ranging from academicians, students, writers, your average lover of books and multi-media people like Peter Kayode Adegbie Nigerian born camera man from New Castle.
Many talks and discussions and even music had been held for two days (10th and 11th October) and to finalise the epic, Simon Kigandi who in his own right is an expert on Achebe became his inquisitor, prodding and digging:
“I don’t know.”
Chinua Achebe was as succinct and as simple as his books.

On stage the two men; like father and son; author and critic, Achebe and Kenyan scholar Professor Simon Gikandi from Princeton University exchange good hearted blows, for our benefit...
After the long laughter (and I tell you the one hour plus inquisition was plastered with loads and loads of guffaws)…. and the pause…. of a man nearing 80 years (His son Ike almost proud to tell me); with a patience that is as noble as the one I saw in Nelson Mandela when he just strolled out of prison, he enchanted us. When do you get to hear the elderly speaking? Do we listen to our elders anymore? Don’t we call them pensioners, the Boring Elders?
“I was young…everything was possible. I had to tell this story. I began to listen to my father’s friends…then I listened to the women…their folk tales were very interesting than the men’s…both men and women were interesting but the folk tales of the women were more fascinating.”

Now if you want to be a writer and you are listening to an octogenarian talking you don’t need a better ocassion. We had began to chuckle and giggle from the jokes of the Inquisitor thinking he was funny, but as soon as the slow talking, unassuming Professor Chinua Achebe opened his mouth, we were captured. We were in a super class listening to a master talking…. So quietly that the microphone had to be pushed closer to him.
Lesson number one. If you want to write a novel, if you want to write anything as substantial as this maestro does…learn to listen.

Louisa from Stand-up for Africa organisation She asked Achebe whether his essayspublished in 1983 were still valid today.

The inquisitor went on.
It was a time of great change, Achebe responded; movement for independence in West Africa, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria then Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Mood of freedom …
That is history; and it was within that framework of time and place that he felt he had to tell his story. And you know what? He BELIEVED in his story.
In 1958 Things Fall Apart was published by Heinemann in London…
“I had very good reviews…but I don’t remember what the good reviews said. I do remember what one bad review though.”
Funny yet true.
Human nature, human behaviour, human condition. We remember bad things. Isn’t that another lesson; of life?
This particular critic (in the UK) had alleged that stories about the past were useless.
... If history is that “useless” how come we are in 2008 meeting at some remarkable college to discuss a remarkable topic and hear a remarkable man in a wheel chair talking about a novel written half a century ago?
Since then the book has been read everywhere and translated into at least 40 languages world wide.

James Currey, seen here in the hubbub at SOAS ... has known Achebe since the 1960's while involved with Heinemann and the Africa Witer's Series publications.

Professor Gikandi, ever the inquisitor moiled and persevered.
Again the simple answer and the pause.
“I don’t know…Ask IT…”
What is it?
The story itself. The power of the narrative, the magic of storytelling, the listener who was now the driver of his books and what else?
We heard more funny tales, like the audience in Korea who loved the novel’s main protagonist…charging that he Achebe “should not have killed Okonkwo the hero…”
Or of the Igbo people (for who the story is based on) who always wonder WHERE the story was actually based.
After more revelations it was time for us the audience to become inquisitors.

Dr. Ide Corley from the National University of Ireland chats with Dr. Mpalive-Hangson Msiska of University of Birkbeck. This was proper network event for sure.

The issue of languages for non- English writers writing in English will always be something. He told the tale in English. He is now translating the novel into Igbo. Like Ngugi has done with some of his books.
Still on the issue of language…I wanted an elaboration on the story I read years ago about Achebe meeting the great Kiswahili writer Shaaban Robert ….a while before he died in 1962. Although Professor Achebe knew and respected the legend he had not read his works because they were all in Kiswahili.
Achebe admitted it is a tough issue. The answer is not easy. And to this day Shaaban Robert whose colossal work has earned him father of Kiswahili, has not been thoroughly translated; perhaps a few of his poems, but not much.

Aisha, Kiswahili Ph.D student at SOAS.

As for African politics today.
Are Achebe’s essays The Trouble with Nigeria (published in the 1983)still valid today?
Yes, Achebe responded.
The crisis of Nigeria is goes on and he and other Nigerians are still concerned.
I wanted to know how he writes.

NO, he said.
He writes by pen. Likes feeling his writing, physically.

I was reminded of Ernest Hemingway who said he writes standing up because he regards writing as a physical job just any other be it carpentry, farming, etc.
Yes, writing is work.

Professor Lynn Innes, who put the whole thing together...

With Kenyan writer, Ronald Wanda.

Independent jornalist Christina Okoli back to camera, left, and Louisa chat to unidentified participant after the event.

With writers Kadija George, Segun Lee French, Raimi Gbadamosi

1 comment:

Fita Lutonja said...

Mambo safi nimefurahi kupata habari zaidi kuhusu Achebe