Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Inspired By Literature: Chinua Achebe

When I began my freshman year of college and started my English literature degree I had never read outside the "western canon." Up until that point the focus of my literary formation and education had been the classics, books that are commonly considered "must reads" to develop a sort of collective unconscious upon which to base all other literary studies. 

At the very dawn of my English degree I took a course that served as an introduction to common topics covered in the study and criticism of English literature from trends to philosophies and generally accepted modes of analysis. During this course we were introduced to a lens by which to study literature that stayed with me throughout my English literature degree—postcolonialism—and read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. In terms of my breadth as a reader and my understanding of literature and storytelling this novel changed my life.

(Clockwise from top left): MAC Morning Frost, Rubenesque and Indianwood Paint Pots, NARS Lola Lola and Galapagos Eye Shadows

Chinua Achebe was, in my humble opinion, one of the most gifted storytellers or our time. When he passed away earlier this year, I was truly saddened. As a literature enthusiast I spend most of my time focused on the nineteenth century. It's not often that authors and theorists I admire are alive, and to me Achebe represented an incredibly positive force in the literary world and the world as a whole.

Full of plots and characters as vivid as the colors on the bindings of his books, Chinua Achebe's novels span a vast time frame from the initial contact between Africans and white missionaries (Things Fall Apart) to more modern conflicts in African governments and political structures (Anthills of the Savannah). Never one to shy away from the point, Achebe's characters actions speak louder than their words and instruct those of us in the strengths and challenges Africa faces in equal measure. Just as Achebe's work makes me think about the beauty of his homeland (Nigeria, above), the most emblematic color that I sense when reading his work is red (below). As much a representation of strength and power as it is of fear, red represents the sacrifices we must make to achieve freedom from others and, at times most painfully, from ourselves.

(From right to left): Revlon Strawberry Suede, Tom Ford Wild Ginger*, NARS Autumn Leaves

Although I was not and have never been oblivious to the themes and real life challenges addressed in Achebe's novels, his work forced me to confront a blind spot in my understanding of global literature. I turn to Chinua Achebe as a source of beautifully woven woven stories, with incredibly developed characters that experience situations as uncomfortable in their truth as they can be heart wrenching. Achebe's characters are all possessed of strong convictions but not always the tools to act upon them, a paradigm that we see as the reader and as a member of the global community.

(Left to right): Face Atelier Godiva and Chameleon Fa├žades, NARS Outlaw Blush

Though I dare not mention how many years, this autumn represents the anniversary of the dawn of my English literature degree. To me this anniversary signifies my discovery of a world of literature beyond the western canon thanks to Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart remains one of my favorite novels and played an immense role in my understanding of the world through literature. Each time I read Achebe's chef d'oeuvre I find myself discovering more that I previously overlooked. As far as I am concerned, Things Fall Apart was a gift.

Have you read any of Chinua Achebe's masterpieces? What novel changed your literary life?