By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
A Review of There Was A Man – Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay Anthology (Sixth Edition); A Publication Of The Society Of Young Nigerian Writers, Anambra State Chapter; Edited By Izunna Okafor; 2021; 128pp
Chinua Achebe is without a shadow of doubt in the first rank of the most influential writers of the modern age all over the world. When Chinua Achebe died at exactly 11:51pm (US time), that is 4.51am (Nigerian time), on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at the Harvard University Teaching Hospital, Massachusetts, USA, aged 82, the earth shook and tributes came pouring in from all the continents of the world, from presidents down to paupers.
The then American President Barack Obama lionized Achebe thusly: “A revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador, Chinua shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art.”
The Ghanaian President Mahama said: “Achebe will never die having left behind a legacy that will keep his voice alive forever.” South African President Jacob Zuma put forward these words: “Chinua Achebe was indeed Africa’s greatest literary export and a legend of African Literature. It was in his famous novel Things Fall Apart that many Africans saw themselves in literature and the arts at a time when most of the writing was about Africans but not by Africans. Africa owes a debt of gratitude to Achebe.”
Achebe’s distinguished colleague, the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, paid his tribute with aplomb: “Achebe bestrides generations and geographies. Every country in Africa claims him as their own.”
The then Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan significantly said: “It is for us to work very hard so that by the time the little Achebes will write again, they will write that there is a country and not that there was a country.”
The “little Achebes” as pointed out by President Jonathan are indeed writing now as exemplified by the 128- page book under review today, There Was A Man – Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay Anthology (Sixth Edition); A Publication Of The Society Of Young Nigerian Writers, Anambra State Chapter; Edited By Izunna Okafor.
In his Editor’s Note, the highly resourceful Izunna Okafor writes: “This journey kicked off in 2016 when young writers in Achebe’s home-state, Anambra, Nigeria, planned to host the first Chinua Achebe Literary Festival, which is the first of its kind ever held anywhere in the world, in memory and honour of Achebe, the Father of African Literature. Through the Chinua Achebe Literary Festival and through the anthology (which are currently in their sixth editions now), these writers immortalize Achebe who since his demise on 21st March, 2013, has not received any such honour from any individual or group in any part of the world. The writers, here, through this international anthology, immortalize Achebe with pen.”
There Was A Man is divided into broad sections. The first section contains rousing Poetry based on the Chinua Achebe mystique. The second section contains Essays and Reviews. There is an appendix of immortal quotes from Achebe.
The Poetry Section kicks off with “You Lend Wings To Our Eagles (A dedication to Chinua Achebe) by John Chinaka Onyeche:
Today, we shall gather again –
In this land of our ancestors,
Yes, the one through the rays –
of lights, you raised for us all;
From which we have been armed –
with a voice to reverberate aloud,
That there was a country,
in the country, we live in.
Our renowned writer professor, novelist and poet Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo celebrates Achebe with the poem “Words of Wisdom (In Memory of Chinua Achebe, Ugo-nabo)”:
It’s thirty-seven years since you revealed the major cause
Of our woes in The Trouble with Nigeria, a timely warning
The elders closed their minds to its insistent admonitions
The next generation lived in total negation or oblivion
Today the folded mat is thrown wide open
And the youths are on the warpath without violence
Demanding redress, respect and good governance.
Given the largeness of Achebe’s influence, literally all the geo-political zones of the country are represented in the poets that feature in the anthology.
As a global icon, Achebe is eulogized by poets from far-flung countries such as India. For instance, Ekta Rana who grew up in Vijaypur, Jammu and Kashmir, in India is an Assistant Professor and writer whose works have appeared in Haikuniverse, Quills, Poemify Magazine and Chrysanthemum and has also been awarded Best Researcher Awards, writes from Jammu & Kashmir, India with the poem “Trembling Fingers On Things Fall Apart”:
The creative minds are caged forever.
Nwoye with a bitter throat,
word “Father” hits on the four walls of his mouth.
The few waiting for Sweet Tongue promises,
Okonkwo is in fight with the Northern Winds.
Umuofia is changing, I empathized
with a step outside the coffee house!!!
Juliana Davidsson, a poet and a fan of Achebe’s work and especially his poetry writes in from Duncan Way, Oakland, California, USA with the poem “The Truth is a Liar”:
They called my Vietnamese mother a black cow, the color of a gun,
Less food and less chances, she was the communities’ shun because her skin was the color of earth
The world told her she was less so what did the world tell the African man and more sinister still? What did we tell the African woman and what lies did she accept as truth?
The truth is a liar
It shines in golden cloths for fools to believe, but belongs in the funeral pyre.
The Essays & Reviews Section bears the resounding testimony of the profound personal essay entitled “Simply, Achebe” by Oseloka H Obaze that reveals:
“ACHEBE was a role model, a mentor and a great conversationalist, always in that almost dowdy tonality and elocution that belied his intellect, but spoke power to the truth and vented awesome and erudite views on matters so personal and otherwise.
“By a twist of fate, the ACHEBE persona I did not read about, I came to know closely through my affinity to his childhood and lifelong friend, Chief Chike Momah and his wife Ethel. The friendship between the Achebes (Chinua and Christy) and Momahs (Chike and Ethel) was near eschatological. Vicariously, I was a beneficiary.”
Chinua Achebe is larger than life and death as his name still reverberates all over the continents of the world. That we are gathered here today is a testament to the eternal greatness of Albert Chinualumogu Achebe.