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¶Unveil New Anthology For Chinua Achebe


It was a fecund and commemorative gathering yesterday as literary enthusiasts and writers converged in Awka, the Anambra State Capital, to mark the 2019 Chinua Achebe Literary Festival organized young writers in the state.


The event which is a literay festival held annually in honour of foremost Nigerian literary champion, Late Prof. Chinua Achebe in celebration of his worthy life, works and legacies in the literary field.


Delivering a lead paper on the event's theme — ''Intellectuals And National Development: The Chinua Achebe Approach,'' the Guest Lecturer, at the event, RC (Reginald Chiedu) Ofodile described Achebe as a great intellectual and patriot whose commitment to national development was uncommon, being a man who placed his nation’s advancement above his personal glorification, as evidenced by his two-time rejection of the honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


Going memory lane through Achebe's works and life, Mr. Ofodile, an international award-winning writer and actor said "In his approach as an intellectual striving for national development, abjuring art for art’s sake; Chinua Achebe walked his talk, and posterity gives him credit for that."


Describing the event as auspicious, the Chairman of the occasion who is also an award-winning poet and author of 'Pregnancy of the gods' Mr. Odili Ujubuońu noted that Chinua Achebe was not only a great writer but also a cultural activist who through his pen and mastery of art, exposed to the world, the real beauty of Igbo culture and that of Africa at large.


Earlier in his address of welcome, the convener of the event and Coordinator of Society of Young Nigerian Writers (Anambra Chapter), Mr. Izunna Okafor said the primary aim of the event was to celebrate Achebe as a hero and eagle on the Iroko of African Literature, immortalize him in their own way as young writers, and also remind the concerned authorities to immortalize him the best way he deserves.

He said "Aside these, we also, through this event, promote, encourage and reward creative writing and reading culture among our youths and students; discover and harness the hidden but amazing talents among our young ones, in the literary field; and also present writers and readers (intellectuals) as the elixirs to the country's ailments, among other objectives we pursue through it."


Acknowledging that Anambra State has given the world arrays of writers, Izunna who himself is an award-winning author and journalist also called for public and private support for the subsequent editions of the event, even as he urged the  state government to appoint aide(s)  (Special Assistant or Senior Special Assistant or even both) on literary matters, who will stand as a bridge between the government and writers in the state, both young and established.


Responding, the Executive Governor of Anambra State, Chief Dr. Willie Obiano, represented by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. James Ezeh extolled the young writers for initiating and sustaining the literary festival in honour of Achebe the legend, and also avowed the state government's continuous support to the young writers and youths in the state, being a youth friendly Governor.


The Governor was thereafter presented with a gift of pictorial artwork containing a sonnet, creatively crafted by one of the young writers, Mr. Chinonso Okafor.


The 2019 Chinua Achebe Literary Festival featured, among other literay packages, the unveiling and official presentation of Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay Anthology, entitled "Arrows of Words" which is a new (85-paged) anthology of poems and essays, published by the young writers in honour of Achebe.

The event also featured presentation of awards to some deserving personalities and organisations in the state, as well as presentation of prizes to the winning schools and students in the Chinua Achebe Essay Writing Competition, which is an essay writing competition for secondary schools in Anambra State, endowed by the Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation (publishers of the National Light Newspaper, Ka O Di Taa Igbo Newspaper and Sportslight Xtra).


Others great writers and literary enthusiasts who graced the occasion included the Traditional Ruler of Obosi, H.R.M Igwe Chidubem Iweka, represented by Chief Okey Mgbemena (Uzzi Obosi); Sir Chuka Nnabuife (author of 'Mbize: Rage of Red Earth, and MD, National Light Newspaper); Mr. Uzor Maxim Uzoatu (author of  God of Poetry, and Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Communication); Rev. Fr. Ositadimma Amakeze (author of The Last Carver); Mr. Okeke Chika Jerry (author of The gods Are Hungry); Mr. Isidore Emeka Uzoatu (author of Vision Impossible); the Director of Anambra State Library Board, Dr. Nkechi Udeze, and MD/CEO of Naira Rice industry, Comr. Arinze Omenwa, among others.


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Chinua Achebe, who died in Boston today at the age of eighty-two, was a few weeks shy of thirty years old when Nigeria was granted independence from the British Empire, on October 1, 1960, and he was already acclaimed, worldwide, as the preëminent novelist of black Africa. The British publisher Heinemann had brought out Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart, only two years earlier, and it had to have been the first African novel that many of his admirers on the continent and off had read. The sure tragedian's authority with which Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo elder of immense strength and pride, a figure of heroic qualities within the traditions of his culture, who is ill-served, brought low, and undone by those same qualities in his first violent encounters with colonial power, has ensured that still today, with more than ten million copies sold, Things Fall Apart remains the best-known work of African literature.
The great African novel? The book could as truly be called a great novel, period. Many writers would prefer to carry that badge of universality, but Achebe who has gone to his grave without ever receiving the Nobel Prize he deserved as much as any novelist of his era has said that to be called simply a writer, rather than an African writer, is a statement of defeat. Why? Because his project has always been to resist emphatically the notion that African identity must be erased as a prerequisite to being called civilized. Growing up as what he called a British-protected child in the colonial order, the young writer came to see that the Empire's claim that Africans had no history was a violent, if at times ignorant or unconscious, counter-factual effort to annihilate the history of his continent's peoples.
Achebe made his case in many forms essays and lectures, interviews and acts of protest, and as an ideologue and propagandist for the failed Igbo-nationalist secessionist state of Biafra but he made it most cogently on the final page of Things Fall Apart. With the reader in the full emotional grip of the many dimensions of Okonkwo's epic fate, the author boldly and deftly adds another, shifting to the perspective of a colonial governor who considers Okonkwo's story good material perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph for the book he is planning to write:  The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
Having, with his first effort, created a permanent place for the African novel in the world literary canon, Achebe continued to be a prolific imaginative writer, producing novels and stories that evoked, in a range of voices, the trials of Nigeria's pre-colonial and colonial history, and the traumas of its post-independence ordeals: from No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People in the sixties to Girls at War and Anthills of the Savannah in the aftermath of the Biafran war. But the fact that he must be remembered as not only the father but the godfather of modern African literature owes at least as much to the decades he spent as the editor of Heinemann's African Writers Series. In that capacity, Achebe served as the discoverer, mentor, patron, and presenter-to-the-world of so many of the now-classic African authors of the latter half of the twentieth century. The series's orange-spined, generously inexpensive paperbacks carried a stamp of excellence that drew readers everywhere to essential works by writers as varied as Kenneth Kaunda, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Dennis Brutus, Tayeb Salih, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ousmane Sembène, Wole Soyinka, and Nadine Gordimer, to name but a few: it is an extraordinary legacy.
As a storyteller, as a voice of his nation, as a cultural impresario, an intellectual combatant and provocateur, Achebe gained with age the status in Nigeria of a bard and a sage that the modern world rarely affords to writers. After suffering terrible injuries in a car crash, he spent much of his time in the last decades of his life in America, where he settled into long-term professorships at Bard College and Brown University. But when he returned to Nigeria he was received as a national hero. Crowds of thousands sometimes tens of thousands gathered to pay tribute to him. The adoration hardly softened him, though. He was, in his old age, as much a scold to his compatriots as he had ever been in his youth.
I met Achebe a few times in his wheelchair-bound American years. When he gave you his hand it was at once firm and soft and notably warm. He had a gentle presence a man fully capable of wit and mischief and open laughter, but whose default expression, at ease, was one of sympathetic melancholy. His voice was another matter: low-pitched and rich and adamant. When he spoke, it was with great command and unmistakable music. In Boston, in 1999, at a celebration of the centennial of Ernest Hemingway s birth, I had the honor of sitting on a panel with Achebe, on the subject of writing about Africa. He was as cogently withering about Hemingway's Africa a place he could not recognize because there were no speaking Africans there as he was, in one of his most famous essays, about Joseph Conrad s. At the end of the session, the floor was opened to questions. An evidently confused woman in the audience took the opportunity to ask In what sense are you writers about Africa? The other panelists Nadine Gordimer and Kwame Anthony Appiah were too baffled to respond. Not Achebe. He leaned into his microphone, and very slowly and melodically, with rolling Rs and drawn out Os, roared: Read. Our. Books. The woman said, But I'm asking you. And Achebe said, I'm telling you: Read. Our. Books. 
What better epitaph for the man, and what better way to remember him today: read his books.
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