Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, widely known as the father of modern African literature, has died aged 82 after a brief illness, his family said on Friday.
Best known internationally for his novel “Things Fall Apart”, which depicts the collision between British rule and traditional Igbo culture in his native southeast Nigeria, Achebe was also a staunch critic of corruption in his country.
“One of the great literary voices of his time, he was also a beloved husband, father, uncle and grandfather, whose wisdom and courage are an inspiration to all who knew him," his family said in a statement.
Achebe had lived and worked as a professor in the United States in recent years, most recently at Brown University in Rhode Island. A 1990 car accident left him in a wheelchair and limited his travel.
A statement from the Mandela Foundation in South Africa said he passed away Thursday and quoted Nelson Mandela as referring to him as a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”
South African President Jacob Zuma described Achebe as a “colossus of African writing”.
Apart from criticising misrule in Nigeria, Achebe also strongly backed his native Biafra, which declared independence from the republic in 1967, sparking a civil war that killed around one million people and only ended in 1970.
The conflict was the subject of a long-awaited memoir he published last year, titled
“There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra.”
In 2011, Achebe rejected a Nigerian government offer to honour him with one of the nation’[s highest awards -- at least the second time he had done so.
President Goodluck Jonathan said his “frank, truthful and fearless interventions in national affairs will be greatly missed at home.”
South African writer and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer called Achebe the “father of modern African literature” in 2007, when she was among the judges to award him the Man Booker International prize for fiction.
While he was widely lauded worldwide, Achebe never won the Nobel prize for literature, unlike fellow Nigerian author Wole Soyinka, who became the first African Nobel literature laureate in 1986.