Author Chinua Achebe puts pen to page after 20 years

Wed Sep 30, 2009 1:21pm EDT
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By Edward McAllister

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, New York (Reuters) - Chinua Achebe, the grandfather of modern African literature, first began telling stories as a means to reaching the truth. Fiction, he knew, could sometimes strike deeper than real life.

More than 50 years ago Achebe wrote "Things Fall Apart," a novel about an African tribe's fatal brush with British colonialism in the 1800s that told the story of colonialism for the first time from an African perspective.

Written in English, "Things Fall Apart" told a world audience about the upheaval that Africa had endured. It was translated into 50 languages and sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.

"In my mind, fiction has a level of truth which it must meet. This is what I learned in the process of writing," Achebe, 78, said during an interview in his bungalow in the small riverside town of Annandale-on-Hudson, north of New York City. "Sometimes the truth of fiction is more profound than the truth of journalism."

Wheelchair-bound after a 1990 car accident that cost him the use of his legs, Achebe still recognizes the importance of stories, both national and personal.

In October, he will release his first book in more than 20 years, "The Education of a British-Protected Child," a collection of old and recent essays that piece together the arc of his literary life. His story, and that of his native Nigeria, are closely entwined.

He attributes the lack of novels over the past 20 years to style. "You might say why have I not written 50 books," he said. "I write with caution. Less speed and more caution."