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Happy Birthday Chinua Achebe: Tribute to a master storyteller from Ogidi, Anambra State, Nigeria

March 21st marked seven years since Prof. Chinualumogu Albert Achebe joined his ancestors. He died in Boston, USA on 21st March 2013, after a brief illness, aged 82. In life and in death he remains many things to many people. His Son, Dr. Chidi Achebe in remembrance of his father sent a message around on one of the Social media platforms saying, “My Dad, Chinua Achebe, novelist, poet and critic, crusader for social justice, reluctant politician, advocate for the voiceless, died #OnThisDay in 2013. Author of over twenty books, including five novels, collections of poetry, children’s books, and essays; his 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart, is his stand out publication. It has sold more than 20 million copies, been translated into 57 languages, and read in schools across the globe. Love you Dad. Thank God for your life.”

Let me take you back to just three years before the passing of an African organic library, that time when the Master storyteller was still alive and kicking. My chance meeting of the great mind of Africa was at the Achebe Colloquium which took place in 2010 in conjunction with Brown University, Rhode Island. I recall writing in my diary and I share with you all for what it is worth:

“How does one reconstruct the dance steps of an intimidating masquerade? Alternatively, how easy will it be to tell a story where a master storyteller was in attendance? The festival of ideas and debates took place over two days at the Marriott Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, in a city said to have been founded by a religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Area in 1636. As other official accounts have it, the city has re-branded its self and is now known as the ―Creative Capital.

It thus makes sense that an Achebe Colloquium found soil in a place such as this. Do not ask me how and when this creative marriage of ―Pa Chinua Achebe and Brown University came about. All I know is that the official publication of Brown University quoted president of the University, Ruth Simmons, as saying that Achebe ―made it clear from the outset that his concern was to bring issues involving Africa to the attention of the world. But Achebe not only brought attention to issues tearing Africa apart he got most of us at the event standing at attention.

I won‘t detain you with the confluence of coincidences but lead you along as I distill facts, fantasies, and flashes from my memory. If the truth must be the chord of my narration, then you need to know a few things about how I found myself at a Colloquium I was neither invited nor followed the laid-down procedure of registering for an event such as this.

Let us just say, I just booked a flight, and accommodation at the designated Hotel for one night and I was ready to ―just appear at the Achebe Colloquium with a camera and a pair of ears that will pick up side talks and watch intellectuals do what they know how to do best. The list of intellectual giants invited for the colloquium is enough to compel any curious being like me to want to attend with or without invitation. In this case, it is preposterous to list who was there than to just look for a few names that were not present. Well, if you are reading this far from Gainesville then you did not have the wings to fly to this august gathering that played host to Professors Ali Mazuri, Adebowale Adefuye, Attahiru Jega, Kenneth Harrow, Vern Redekop and a host of former Ambassadors.”

Let us not open the whole box of memory but just to say that the Colloquium was not during the time of Corona Virus as we have at present. Ten years have gone into history and seven years have rolled past. The works (and words) of Chinua Achebe remain relevant even until this day. Will you not say when the arrow of God strikes,  things fall apart and man is no longer at ease?  May his soul continue to rest in power and return for repeat performances in the land of ancestors.

Written by Kole Odutola