Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chinua Achebe wins Man Booker international

Chinua Achebe has won the 2007 Man Booker International book prize - an award for a body of work rather than a new book.

The description of Achebe by some commentators as 'obscure' has riled Maya Jaggi in The Guardian.
The question arises, obscure for whom? Achebe, aged 76, is revered across continents as a founder of the modern African novel in English. Things Fall Apart, his 1958 debut about the devastating impact of Christian missionaries on Igbo culture amid the scramble for Africa in the 1890s, is one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century. Nor was Achebe obscure to the galaxy of writers - including Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer - I heard pay birthday tributes to him at Bard College in upstate New York, where he has taught since a car crash in Nigeria 17 years ago left him in a wheelchair.

Yet making the case for profiling Achebe in this paper in 2000, I was struck anew by how towering figures in world literature can fall beneath the radar in the west, or slip from memory. It may be worse for those not writing in English, as I was reminded by the death on Sunday of Senegal's Ousmane Sembène, aged 84, a francophone novelist and founding father of sub-Saharan African cinema. Hardly a household name - though, like Achebe, he deserves to be.

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