African Writers of Today; 4; Chinua Achebe
National Educational Television presents African writers of today. A series of programs surveying the literary scene in contemporary Africa. Today we feature an interview with the Nigerian novelist Chinwa Achebe. Mr. Achebe is author of the novels, things fall apart, and no longer at ease. His third novel, Arrow of God, is soon to be published. Chinwa Achebe will be interviewed by two fellow African writers, Mr. Walay Shoyinka, Nigerian poet and dramatist, and program host Louis Encosi, South African author, journalist and broadcaster. This program was recorded in the Nigerian National Museum Legos. Now these little horned things are very interesting.
Every adult evil man had one, and when he died it split into two and one half is buried. The other half is thrown away. It's called Ikinder. Oh yes, this is the cult of strength. That's right. Well gentlemen, maybe we can sit down and start with the interview. Are you all comfortable? Yes, thank you. Here at the Museum of Nigeria in Legos, we are sitting with Chinwa Achebe, a man possessed of a startlingly original talent in writing. Chinwa Achebe the young has given the world two novels, things fall apart, no longer at ease. And all critics seem to agree that Chinwa Achebe combines a simplicity in technique
and a very complex technical talent indeed. But maybe Walay Shoyinka would like to add a few words of introduction. No, I don't think I have much more to add to what you said about Chinwa Achebe on the personal level and all the other aspects. I just like to go straight into your work. And I'd like to take as my point of reference for a start. This last carving you showed me, the carving of Ikenga. Now this represents, as you said, the spirit of manhood, of strength, of real masculine energy in able society. Now, in things fall apart, Okonko seems to me to represent the kind of figure in society who is acted upon from within by this kind of strong spiritual quality.
Now I'd like to know from you whether this is a conscious derivative in the creation of this character, it is the sense of the character in society. The religion is his beliefs. Well, not consciously, but Okonko, as you said, symbolizes if you like strength and aggressiveness. Now these are some of the qualities that his people admire. And I wanted a character who could be called a representative of this particular group of people. And they admire the man of strength, the man who man of wealth, a man who had a big compound with wives and many farms, that sort of thing. Now this is a dangerous question I know, but does it imply anything in your own personal attitude towards this society
which places so much premium and what, after all, may be kind of the exhibitionist side of the masculine ego? Does it imply something of your own attitude? The fact that Okonko does by this very personal immersion in this kind of value that he has for a fall. Yes, I think there is a point there. There is the weakness of this particular society. I think his lack of adaptation is not being able to bend. But I can't say that this now represents the evil people today. But I think in his time, this strong man who did not bend. And I think this was a fault in the culture itself. Yes, Chino, I'm more interested in what some people have described as your deliberate attempt to avoid passing moral judgment on your characters. For instance, in the first novel that you wrote called Things Fall Apart, there is this absolute cruelty in which,
because the travel society sanctions the killing of a war by his protector, this man carries this after, although he seems to have some kind of doubts. He doesn't avoid doing so. And the way you wrote that passage seemed to imply that you were not able to make any particular judgment on that action. Is this true or not? No, I don't think this is a fair assessment at all. You have to see this story as a whole. This is what I was saying to one earlier on that. This particular society perhaps believes too much in manliness, you see. And this is part of it, and this is part of the reason why it crashed at the end, you see. I don't think a writer should point a moral lesson on every page.
I think the total effect at the end of this story is that this is the way that things went. I like my moral not to be as obvious as I was getting at, whether you had some kind of moral point of view. Yes, well, we're taking the book as a whole. I think that this particular society had its good side. It's the poetry of the life, the simplicity, if you like. The communal way of sharing in happiness and in sorrow and in work and all that. It's not all that. Also, it had art and beauty. But it had this cruel side to it. And it is this. It helped to bring down my hero. For a moment, I was going to, you know, way began explaining, I was going to say that this sounded dangerously like the philosophy of negative. I shall say almost the myth of negative, simple matter.
I was relieved you mentioned an extra dimension to it. If I may pick up something which Liz was saying, the whole question of style, do you accept the evaluation which has been placed on your style by some critics that there is a kind of almost precise workmanship about it. It's almost a kind of unrelieved competence as opposed to genuine artistic inspiration. Do they expect me to accept that? No, I don't think one could call my method in those terms. Because I don't particularly spend a lot of time on polishing.
I said, a lot of things all about was written straight without any kind of draft. So I don't, I wouldn't, I wouldn't say no. If I may be permitted to ask you another question January, I'm very much conscious of the fact that there seems to be some kind of continuity between the modern way society and Nigeria from which it's for use frame and the old traditional society. What were the formative influences upon your life? How were you able to draw such an accurate picture of the old traditional society? How are these influences passed on? Yes, well, I think I belong to a very fortunate generation in this respect that the old hadn't been completely disorganized, you see, when I was growing up. I think the disorganization has gone a stage further now.
But when I was growing up, it was easy, especially if you lived in a village, to see it not in whole, at least in part, you see. There are these old ways of life, you see. If you, I was particularly interested in listening to the way old people talk to see, and this is the kind of background, you see. And the festivals, of course, were still observed, maybe not in the same force, but they were still there. This didn't really entail a deliberate kind of research of the adult artist into this life. No, I didn't do any research at all. When you were going to the University College of Ibarton, and you switched off from a cause in medicine to a literature, did you find any precursors in the West African novel,
English people have written a novel about your society, which you produced the model, or did you find nothing at all that was useful to you? Well, I know that there wasn't very much. When I was at college, Joyce Kerry had written some of his books. If I may say so, perhaps he was, he helped to inspire me, but not in the usual way, I was really angry with this book Mr. Johnson, which was set in Nigeria. I haven't to read this, I think, in my second year. And I said to myself, now this is absurd, and if somebody without knowledge, without any inside knowledge of the people who is trying to describe can get away with it, I'll try my hand at it.
Dimension, Mr. Johnson, this is the second book now, no longer a tease, the hero of that book. He struck me as in some way rather a feat kind of character. You do not see any kind of equation at all between him, between his particular weaknesses. I refer especially to his kind of relationship with his European boss. You do not see any similarity at all between this and Mr. Johnson. No, I don't. To me, Mr. Johnson doesn't leave at all. He's merely a caricature. Exactly, I know Mr. Johnson is a caricature, but then caricature really is something you exaggerate. You do exaggerate some kind of positive, factual elements. Now, you do not think that this hero,
he does demonstrate some of these exaggerated qualities in Mr. Johnson. Again, I go back to his relationship with his boss in the office, the kind of peculiar difference which he had towards him. It's kind of tolerance of this boss, which has exaggerated many. Yes, well, I don't think if you go back to that book, you see that he actually didn't have much respect for his boss, but his nature was such that he was able to dismiss him as an example of this or that, you see. There was, in fact, a passage where he was thinking of the greens. This is his boss. The greens of this generation, you see, they are trying to... No, I think his problem was that he was perhaps too civilized, too shout, and this might be what you're referring to. What I don't think is the same thing as Mr. Johnson,
even a caricature is not a correct way, it probably is simply a puppet. Yeah, completely. Yes. A question. Jane, who are Professor Abraham in his book, in Mind of Africa, or selects you as one of the most original or the more African of all the African novelists that he has read in English speaking Africa, I was just wondering whether you found that there was something to be done with this alien form as I suspect the novel is, whether you found that you could experiment with the form not just with the continent, is there room to turn around in this alien form at all? Yes, well, I think, I think, the novel form suits me extremely well just now. I haven't read the Dr. Abraham's book, but I think, I can regard myself, I think, just as very much an African writer,
I think I'm basically an answer to worship, if you like, not in the same sense as my grandfather would probably do it, you know, pouring out from wine on the floor for the ancestors. But, you know, with me, it takes the form of celebration. And I feel a certain compulsion to do this, it's not because I want, I think this would appeal to listeners, to my readers, I feel that this is something that has to be done before I move on to the contemporary scene. And the reason why my friend goes back again to the past, not as remote as the first, but I have come to think that my first book is no longer adequate. I've learned a lot more about this particular people, you know, my ancestors. But, sorry, to move to a more general topic. Do you agree with what Louis said about the novel being an alien form? I have in mind, when I say this,
the kind of, the kind of idiom of storytelling, which is very prevalent in the east, even much more than the west, where a story can be recited with action, with demonstration, with dances, with, you know, with all the, you know, even with makeup for days, nights, after night. Now, I mean, isn't this really a difference of material? Yes, that's real. But you are writing now. I mean, the art of the story is the same, really. I mean, it's not any more alien than telling the story, as you say. But this person of writing it down, is in a different language. Yes, yes. Well, I don't want to make too tight the distinction between the storytelling tradition in Africa and the European forms of novel. But I do feel that the European novel has a certain background, the bourgeois background, and the individual authorship,
which is another prominent feature of it. And of course, the fact that it can be enjoyed by a single person, by himself, without sort of being gathered together with lots of other people. But no matter, I want to pass on to another question, I would like to put to you, and it's a more sociological question. I'm interested in just how much social power a novelist in Nigeria has, how much influence he has with his society, or is the society completely different to him? Well, the novelist is comparatively young. Here, it's only about 10 years old. And it would be impossible to say precisely what kind of influence we are going to have. All I can say is that it is growing. I think my books, for instance, have done extremely well in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa. And I think the same goes with the other novelists here.
What are you can call this social influence? No, I think probably we ought to win some years to see it. Yes, but I'm interested because there has already been a definite reaction from, say, the federal government of Nigeria to simply an acquaintance's novel, which was about the info, and they banned this. And they said it shouldn't be done because it doesn't actuate or reflect the life of Nigeria. Are the politicians beginning to react to some kind of social criticism contained in the younger literature of Nigeria? Well, I can only quote from my own experience. I haven't come up against any obstruction, like the example you've given. Maybe when I move into the present in a political novel, that would be the time to test.
But all I can say is that I haven't yet come up against any kind of opposition. And in any case, I think politicians behave pretty much the same all over the world. The basic suspicions, even sipping an acquaintance's book, which you refer to, for instance, is not really a piece of social criticism. I think it's just this problem of politicians getting nervous about the false image being presented without ever understanding the whole business of creative writing, and cannot understand it if a prostitute is written about in the book. It isn't kind of treatise on social media. But I would like to make kind of abrupt transition here. I know you were in the States very recently, and I'd like to know if you met any of the American novelists, particularly the Negro novelists and writers. Maybe there's something you'd like to hear.
Yes, yes, I did indeed. And for that, that was the very purpose of my visit. I did meet with the Harlem group of writers, you know, Langston Hughes and John Killens and the whole lot of younger ones. I didn't meet a ball, you know, unfortunately, because it was tied up with other duties. I also met quite a few white writers, you know, not just novelists. I met Arthur Miller, the dramatist. But perhaps what I got most was a kind of close relationship with the literary powers in America. I think I'm now not more interested in what is being written there than I was before. Did you notice any similarities or problems? For instance, I would like to know if you felt that there were particularly the Negro writers were particularly interested in your work,
because of this interest of yours and your orientation around the traditional African way of life. The philosophy is, did you? Yes, yes, yes. Very much so. In fact, I remember now one Negro writer who autographed a book of hers with the words, something to this effect, to a gentleman who depicted so beautifully the culture that might have been mine. This is the kind of feeling I think they have. Chen Wah, the European critics, if I may say, have been most kind to your novels, at least in their appreciation and acceptance of them. But you have been the most vicious critic of the European critics. Why is this what you find so objectionable in their approach to African literature? Well, I'm surprised to hear you say that I'm the most vicious critic of the critics.
No, I don't object to critics at all. What I do object to is people preaching from a position of ignorance. And at this, you find quite a lot in the criticisms that are made over work. And even, as I said before, even when they are praising you, you find that this is not really for the right reasons at all. Because I'm not saying that they should shut up. But I hate any kind of cultural or literary books, you see, being set up. People who can pontificate on the real African literature or the real, they see, I'm not new, you find. A lot about words like real or true or valid. Yes, but these words, I think, are almost meaningless in the context. How do you react to the critics who lumped you, Ciprenna Quincy and Bonora and Zacco together as an unbeatable,
treble choice? Now, you're not, how do you react personally to this as a writer? Well, not particular critic. I know who you mean. I don't care particularly for him. Of course, he's a welcome to his opinion about me, about me being unbeatable. I couldn't follow with that. But I don't care for him as a critic. Yeah, but just to see this a bit further. He also makes a statement on which I think he might like to comment. Talking, I think, about, I forgot his book now. He says, and he also writes the kind of books which his readers, his African people like to read, a novel with a moral at the end. Now, you talked earlier about one of your novels possessing some kind of moral. But do you make it a Ciprenna way he uses this? Yes, I'm sure what it means is the kind of moral what you have in stories for children. And the moral of this story is that the man who behaves this way has this kind of a world.
I mean, that obviously is not the right approach, you see, for a novelist. Chino, you have said something about the latest novel, your Britain, having progressed beyond the two books that you worked on the first time. Could you indicate perhaps in what direction you think you made this advance? Or the technically otherwise? Well, to be difficult to describe the technical superiority, is there a difference in subject matter? Yes, yes, there is definitely. I'm handling a whole lot of more complex themes, you see, like the relationship between a god and his priest. My chief character in this novel is a village priest. Not a Christian priest, the traditional African religion. And I'm interested in this whole person of who decides what shall be the wish of the gods.
And that kind of situation. And I've also tried to develop my treatment of character. What I succeed or not were still to be seen, so I think that I have progressed in that direction. Yes, and the other question, of course, is the more general one, which bothers a lot of people and has to do with the audience. Do you find that you're beginning to develop an indigenous audience in Nigeria so that you can rely less on metaphors and audiences or to put it in another form so that you can become less conscious of the demands of your people? Yes, yes, I think you're right. Although I must say that I don't think I was consciously working with an audience in my Facebook. If I remember, being surprised when the first person who did it said,
who did you have in mind, you see. Well, that doesn't mean I didn't have somebody in mind, but I wasn't thinking of it primarily. The second time, of course, this thought I've been put into my mind. I was about myself thinking about it. But now I feel I don't have to worry over much about who understands what I'm saying or who doesn't. I think there will always be enough people interested in a good story. Well, perhaps this is just as good a time to stop this incident. We're greatly privileged to have Matt Chinwa Archiver at the Museum of Nigeria surrounded as we are by the masks and the brooding spirit, which is about the same kind of thing that broods in the nobles by Chinwa Archiver past is very much there. Chinwa Archiver, all critics agree, has great promises and promises to give us some of the best things that have been produced in Afghanistan literature.
You have just seen and heard another broadcast in the series, African Writers of Today. This series is devoted to the literary scene in contemporary Africa. The personality in today's program, Chinwa Archiver, Nigerian novelist, author of Things Fall Apart, no longer at ease. His third novel, Arrow of God, is soon to be published. Chinwa Archiver was interviewed by Wole Shoyinka, Nigerian poet and dramatist, and series host Louis N. Cossi, South African author, journalist and broadcaster. African Writers of Today is produced by National Educational Television in collaboration with the transcription center, London. This is MET, National Educational Television. This is MET, National Educational Television.
This is MET, National Educational Television.
- African Writers of Today
- Episode Number
- Chinua Achebe
- Producing Organization
- National Educational Television and Radio Center
- Transcription Center, London
- Contributing Organization
- Library of Congress (Washington, District of Columbia)
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- NOLA Code
- Episode Description
- As this program begins the viewer sees three men walking through one of the halls of the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos. They are: series host Lewis Nkosi, Wole Soyinka, and the featured guest, Chinua Achebe. The interview, which focuses on the craft of Achebe himself, begins as Soyinka and Achebe discuss a carving of Ikenga, a symbol of manhood in Ibo society. Soyinka likens the spirit of Achebe's character Okongkwo from the novel Things Fall Apart to that represented by the carving. Achebe says he poured the essence of the aggressiveness and showy masculinity, traditionally so admired by the Ibo society into Okongkwo, and had his character's ultimate downfall represent the shortcoming of a culture which places a premium on brute intransigence. Is one critical assessment of Achebe's work - that in his books he deliberately attempts to avoid passing moral judgment - a true one?, ask Nkosi. Not at all, replies the novelist. Achebe says that while he presents a balanced picture of the Ibo society in Things Fall Apart, including its many admirable attributes (its music and art,"...the poetry of life, the simplicity... the communal way of sharing in happiness and in sorrow..."), and while he does not attempt to draw a moral lesson on every page, the total effect at the end of the book - the disintegration of his hero - illuminates a very strong moral position on the author's part. After dismissing an evaluation of his work as being "unrelieved competence" rather than "genuine artistic inspiration" by pointing out that Things Fall Apart was written as a single draft with no polishing, Achebe goes on to discuss the influences which have shaped his artistic life. He speaks of the village, of the colorful tribal festivals, and of the way the old people talked. Coming from his own background, he points out, his fiction is the result of direct observation, not research. He also refers to the negative influence of Joyce Cary's Mr. Johnson which angered him deeply when he was a student at the University College Ibadan. Achebe also briefly discusses: his recent trip to the United States, where he met with the Harlem Group of writers - among them Langston Hughes and John Killens - and with a number of white writers including playwright Arthur Miller; his strong opposition to "people preaching from a position of ignorance," a position which, he claims, is characteristic of most present day critics of African literature; and his new novel Arrow of God. In Arrow of God which concerns the relationship between an African god and a village priest, Achebe feels he is handling a group of more complex themes than he has in the past, and that he is progressing in the direction of a more highly developed treatment of character. The author sees the Nigerian novelist's position in his society as one of growing influence. As a literary form the novel is comparatively new in the country - only ten years old - but if book sales are any indication, Achebe feels the novel has caught on. The three writers discuss the form of the novel as an "alien" form and consider its relation to the African writer. Is it possible, they wonder, that African traditions of storytelling could combine with the European novel traditions and evolve a new African novel form? (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
- Series Description
- That Africa is a simmering continent is no surprise to anyone these days. The number of African nations which have, during the past few years, stood up to declare their independence and their desire to be counted in international trade circles and forums of political arbitration in an unprecedented phenomenon in history. And, as part of the continent's adolescence in its rapid evolution into modernity, there are the current touchy events in the east African countries of Zanzibar, Tanganyika, Kenya, and Uganda; the continued racial suppression in South Africa; and the recent wooing your of Chou En-lai. These are political situations and economic situations - and, in these areas, the American public is reasonably well informed. But a simmering continent is not all politics and it's not all economics. There is an emerging culture as well, and, in this case, a body of literature which demands to be called "African." For all of the information that comes to the United States from the African continent, so little is known about their writers. Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What are their reactions to the cultural revolution which surrounds them? For whom are they writing? Are they turning to the forms of the tribal oral traditions or are they rejecting them? How do the individual writers react to the philosophy of "Negritude?" What is the influence of current European literature and of the literature of the American Negro on their works? And what is the reciprocal influence of African novels, stories, plays and poems on the literature of these other cultures. In African Writers of Today, National Educational Television is giving US audiences an opportunity to find out about the contemporary literature of Africa and to meet some of the most significant African figures in the literary world. Devoted primarily to interviews with the writers themselves, the 6 half-hour episodes were filmed in Ghana, Nyasaland, The Cameroon Republic, Nigeria, Senegal, England, and France, the home settings of the featured personalities. African Writers of Today is a 1964 production of National Educational Television in collaboration with the Transcription Center, London. (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
- Broadcast Date
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- Talk Show
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- Moving Image
Guest: Achebe, Chinua
Guest: Soyinka, Wole
Host: Nkosi, Lewis
Producer: Dor, Henry A.
Producing Organization: National Educational Television and Radio Center
Producing Organization: Transcription Center, London
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Library of Congress
Identifier: 1833873-2 (MAVIS Item ID)
Format: 16mm film
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Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive
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Format: 16mm film
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- Chicago: “African Writers of Today; 4; Chinua Achebe,” 1964-00-00, Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 26, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-b853f4mj6h.
- MLA: “African Writers of Today; 4; Chinua Achebe.” 1964-00-00. Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 26, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-b853f4mj6h>.
- APA: African Writers of Today; 4; Chinua Achebe. Boston, MA: Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-b853f4mj6h