NPR : News

Chinua Achebe And The Bravery Of Lions

Chinua Achebe, the prominent Nigerian novelist and essayist who died on Thursday, said in a 1994 interview with the Paris Review, "There is that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."

Achebe's books are elegant, musical, and — most significantly — they'll live on as African rebuttals to the colonial narratives of Joseph Conrad and other European writers.

Achebe's influence is most visible in the extraordinary output of a handful of prominent young Nigerian writers and other African literary elite. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a MacArthur Fellow and perhaps the most famous young Nigerian writer, said in a 2009 Ted talk that "[B]ecause of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye...I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature."

The Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett wrote in an email of Achebe's "saintly status among Nigerian writers," adding that "His was the strongest voice of Africa's generation of angry voices."

And Ellah Allfrey, the deputy editor of the literary magazine Granta, who was born in Zimbabwe, wrote in an email that, even though she grew up far from Nigeria, "[Things Fall Apart] is the book that allowed me to read in the first person — a perspective and a story that offered me a landscape and characters who (even though they were across the continent from my home) I could identify as my own — or, at last, were closer to me than any I had read before."

Achebe, too, felt alienated by the depictions of Africa found in English novels, and identified Joseph Conrad as a particular foe. NPR's Robert Siegel, in an interview with Achebe, quoted an essay Achebe had written, "I was not on Marlow's boat steaming up the Congo in Heart of Darkness. Rather, I was one of those unattractive beings jumping up and down on the river bank making hard faces." Achebe told Siegel: "I realized how terribly, terribly wrong it was to portray my people, any people, from that attitude, from that point of view."

Achebe became a historian of lions with his first and most famous novel, Things Fall Apart, which showed the devastating effects of colonialism on a Nigerian village in the late 1800s. He wrote: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."

Though Achebe is best known for his first novel, his poetry is also deeply political, though not always explicitly so. The poem "Mango Seedling," for his friend Christopher Okigbo, a poet who was killed fighting for Biafran independence in the Nigerian Civil War, takes the form of an elegy for a dying plant: "How long the happy waving/ From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus? / How long the feast on remnant flour / At pot bottom?" Others are less opaque. One, called "Air Raid," begins, "It comes so quickly/ the bird of death..."

In that same Paris Review interview, Achebe said that storytelling "is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail—the bravery, even, of the lions."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, July 29, 2015

You can hear classical Indian music or learn about the Arab influences of a traditional Spanish dance form. 

WAMU 88.5

The Democracy Of The Diner

Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.

WAMU 88.5

D.C. Council Member David Grosso

D.C. Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Education David Grosso joins us to discuss local public policy issues, including the challenges facing D.C. Public Schools.


Twitter Faces Challenges As It tries To Balance Profitability, Popularity

The social network Twitter is popular with users, but that's not enough. It also needs to be profitable, and by its 140-character nature that's a challenge.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.