The U.S. President Barack Obama last night praised the late Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, as a “revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador.”
Mr. Obama’s words of laud for Mr. Achebe, the author of the classic Things Fall Apart and four other widely read novels, were contained in a condolence message he sent to the organizers of an event held in Washington, DC on Sunday, June 2, 2013 to celebrate the life of the late author. The celebration was held at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC.
International writers, government officials, and fans gathered at the venue to remember Mr. Achebe who was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor of Africana Studies and Literary Arts at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island. The event, which lasted from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., included readings, music, an arts exhibition, Igbo masquerades and a variety of cultural dances.
Mr. Obama’s personal condolence message at the event was read by representative of the American president. In his statement, Mr. Obama stated that the late professor and author “shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world.” The US President added: “With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, [Professor Achebe] 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.”
Other speakers at the event included Ruth Simmons, the immediate past President of Brown University, Johnnetta Cole, a former President of Spelman College and current director of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Sonia Sanchez, a leading American poet, Scott Moyers, whose Penguin Press published Mr. Achebe’s last book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, and Micere Mugo, a Kenyan-born poet, cultural activist and professor of literature at Syracuse University. Professor Simon Gikandi of Princeton University as well as Jules Chametzky, a retired professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst also spoke about the late Achebe.
The Afrobeat band known as Eme and Heteru entertained at the event. One of the highlights of the evening was a dramatic recreation of a scene from Things Fall Apart by the Chuck Mike theatre group.
Among those who attended the celebration was Africa’s literary star, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of three novels, including the recently released Americanah. In her interview, Ms. Adichie described Mr. Achebe as a literary icon, adding that the late author “gave me the permission to write.”