Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, widely seen as the grandfather of modern African literature, has died at the age of 82.
The statesman, dissident and author of the novel “Things Fall Apart” died on Friday following a brief illness, said Andrew Wylie, Achebe’s agent
Achebe’s death in Boston was confirmed by Brown University, where he taught.
Literary critics have compared Achebe’s eminence worldwide to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and a handful of other writers.
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, described Achebe as a “colossus of African writing”, expressing sadness at his death.
Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and an icon of the Apartheid era, has called him a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down”.
The pain at Achebe’s death was felt across Nigeria, and particularly in the southeastern homeland of the Igbos.
“Our whole household is crying out in grief,” a cousin and traditional chief, Uba Onubon, told Reuters in Ikenga village.
Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, published in 1958, told of his Igbo ethnic group’s fatal brush with British colonisers in the 1800s – the first time the story of European colonialism had been told from an African viewpoint to an international audience.
The book was translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
He later turned his sights on the devastation wrought to Nigeria and Africa by military coups and entrenched dictatorship.
“Anthills of the Savannah,” published in 1987, is set after a coup in a fictional African country, where power has corrupted and state brutality silenced all but the most courageous.
Born at Ogidi in southeast Nigeria on Nov. 16, 1930, Achebe was the son of a Christian evangelist.
He went to mission schools and to University College, Ibadan, and taught briefly before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, where he was director of external broadcasting from 1961 to 1966.
When his homeland broke away from Nigeria in a disastrous bid for independence, Achebe launched a publishing company in Enugu, capital of the self-declared republic of Biafra.
After the war, which cost a million lives along with Biafra’s hopes of statehood, Achebe returned to Enugu to teach at the nearby Nsukka University.
In 1972 he moved to Massachusetts and since then spent much of his time in the United States, with occasional spells in Nigeria. His last post was at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Through tears, Dora Akunyili, a former government minister and friend, said Achebe’s death “leaves a void in Nigeria, Africa and globally”.
Although Achebe never won the Nobel literature prize like fellow Nigerian Wole Soyinka his works won praise for their vivid portrayal of African realities and their accessibility.
His contribution was recognised when he won The Man Booker International Prize in 2007.
“Professor Achebe will live forever in the hearts and minds of present and future generations through his great works,” Goodluck Jonathan, president of Nigeria, said in a statement.