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A Tribute to Chinua Achebe

on the 50th Anniversary of Things Fall Apart
Michael Cunningham, Edwidge Danticat, Chris Abani, Colum McCann, Suheir Hammad
Francesca Harper Dance Project
Ha Jin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Toni Morrison, Leon Botstein, Chinua Achebe

There should probably be no need to explain the importance of Achebe for the standing of world literature, but the truth is it does. That means, there’s no moral prerogative that demands it, no surely not, but it is justified to make such appeal. As the novel was published fifty years ago, it was the first truly African voice that spoke through such a western medium as the modern fictive novel. It catapulted Achebe into literary existence, and like Leon Botstein remarked with cynicism, it is a book whose title is better known than its author. So the literary scene that felt they needed to be there were there, for the man to be revealed.

Michael Cunningham was hired to read the advertisements. Was it embarrassment or humor, was it embarrassing because the humorous intent failed? It was only sympathetic to see Cunningham openly mock his own obligatory presence. But was it more humiliating than Danticat’s reading that dragged out an excerpt of the first chapter of Things Fall Apart? Did she understand the cruel force of the story she was reading as was it melodic love poetry, or was her voice the intrigue of standing on the stage speaking before the eyes of the beholder, Achebe? But any zenith comes about by a slow rise, and I was only impatiently consuming a tasteless appetizer. Continue reading

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