Careful readers of last week’s tributes to the late Nigerian author and literary titan Chinua Achebe may have noticed that he spent several years teaching at UMass Amherst in the 1970s and ’80s.
Achebe, 82, who died March 21 in Boston, came to prominence in 1958 with the publication of his first novel, “Things Fall Apart.” The book sold more than 10 million copies in 45 languages and became a class of world literature.
In 1972, Achebe accepted an offer to teach at UMass Amherst as a visiting professor of English. Speaking in 1975 as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series, Achebe gave a talk titled “An Image of Africa” that criticized Joseph Conrad as a “bloody racist” and called said Conrad’s famous work, “Heart of Darkness,” dehumanized Africans. The lecture, which generated controversy among many scholars of English literature, was published in 1977 in The Massachusetts Review as “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’”
Achebe returned to campus in 1987-88 as a visiting professor of Afro-American Studies and a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities. The visit was supported by a Fulbright scholar-in-residence grant.
Achebe’s last visit to campus was in 1999 when he read from “Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems”attending a touring production of a play based “Things Fall Apart.”
Image: Visiting professor Chinua Achebe, 1987-88. (Special Collections and University Archives photo)