This month a book of short stories by a Nigerian-born priest is drawing strong reviews and finding new readers across the US (see the Monitor's review of "Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan). But earlier this year it was time to celebrate another Nigerian-born writer as Chinua Achebe's classic "Things Fall Apart" (published in 1958) reached its 50th birthday. Achebe was feted at a gathering at New York's Town Hall last March, as reported in a lengthy piece in the Washington Post.
The two books are similar only in the most superficial sense. Their authors are products of different times and different visions. Achebe wrote to shatter a paradigm, while Akpan's book is closer to being a piece of reportage. Achebe's narrative was deeply rooted in Nigeria while Akpan's stories spread across the width of Africa.
But there remains a tie nonetheless. For decades now, readers around the globe have been picking up not only the books of Achebe but also those of writers like Wole Soyinka and Ben Okri. Today, a new generation of Nigerian authors – including Helen Oyeyemi, Chris Abani, Helon Habila, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – are finding international audiences of their own.
It gives Nigeria – and Africa – an audience in places where its voices might not otherwise have been heard. For those who believe in the power of the written word to bring humankind closer, these books and their authors are simple stories of success.