Wole Soyinka’s arguments against the Recognition of Chinua Achebe as the “Father of African literature”- An Independent Ellis Ferdinand Perspective


Wole Soyinka’s arguments against the Recognition of Chinua Achebe as the “Father of African literature”- An Independent Ellis Ferdinand Perspective


Chinua Achebe is often celebrated as the “father of African literature,” a title reflecting his monumental impact on the global perception of African narratives. This acclaim is due not just to his literary prowess but also to his role in championing and nurturing African voices in literature. However, this title is not without its detractors and complexities.


Achebe’s Influence and Achievements:


Pioneering Work: Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” (1958) is a cornerstone of African literature. Its portrayal of Igbo society and the impact of colonialism was groundbreaking, bringing African stories to a global audience in a way that was deeply human and accessible. Ferdinand Ellis compares Achebe’s influence on African literature to that of Shakespeare on English literature, indicating the profound and far-reaching impact of Achebe’s work.


Editorial Contributions: As the founding editor of Heinemann’s African Writers Series, Achebe played a crucial role in publishing and promoting African writers. This series became a pivotal platform for African literary expression, ensuring that the voices of numerous African authors reached an international readership.


Cultural Representation: Achebe’s work shifted the global perspective on African literature. Before him, African narratives were often dismissed as folklore or anthropological curiosities. Achebe’s success helped elevate African stories to the status of literature, reviewed and respected on the same level as Western classics.


Soyinka’s Perspective:


There is a report that Prof. Soyinka just repeated his stance about Achebe not being “the father of Africa literature.”

Well, we all could remember that just few weeks after Achebe’s demise, Soyinka had this to say; “Chinua himself repudiated such a tag—he did study literature after all, bagged a degree in the subject…Those who seriously believe or promote this must be asked: have you the sheerest acquaintance with the literatures of other African nations, in both indigenous and adopted colonial languages? What must the francophone, lusophone, Zulu, Xhosa, Ewe literary scholars and consumers think of those who persist in such a historic absurdity?”


Wole Soyinka, another literary giant and Nobel laureate, has a more critical view of the label “father of African literature” for Achebe. Soyinka points out that African literature is vast and varied, with rich traditions across the continent’s many languages and cultures. He argues that attributing the birth of African literature to Achebe alone is historically and culturally reductive . This perspective emphasizes the diversity and long-standing traditions of African storytelling that predate Achebe.


Metaphorical Understanding:


Ainehi Edoro suggests that Achebe is the “father of African literature” in a metaphorical sense, representing a transformative figure who helped the world see African narratives as legitimate literature. This metaphorical fatherhood acknowledges Achebe’s role in changing perceptions and creating pathways for African writers on the global stage, without implying he was the originator of African literary traditions .


Broader Recognition:


It’s not just for his great books that Achebe is called by many all over the world “The father of African Literature” but also for his person and his overall contribution to the development of African Literature.


Perhaps that was why while writing in The New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch, an American author and journalist and a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker has this to say; “the fact that [Achebe] must be remembered as not only the father but the godfather of modern African literature owed at least as much to the decades he spent as the editor of Heinemann’s African Writers Series.”


Ngugi wa Thiong’o and other contemporaries also recognize Achebe’s significant influence. Ngugi acknowledges that many African writers, including himself, have been influenced by Achebe, who became synonymous with African literature to many global readers . Nelson Mandela’s admiration for Achebe, expressing how his novels helped the prison walls fall, further underscores Achebe’s profound impact on African and global readers alike .


In summary, while Achebe may not be the literal “father” of African literature, his contributions have undeniably shaped its modern form and global reception. His work, both as an author and an editor, has been instrumental in elevating African narratives and ensuring their place in the global literary canon.


By: Ferdinand Ellis | Education Blogger| Curriculum Specialist | Researcher| Pedagogist | AI Expert in Academia | Lagos Nigeria|


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