Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chinua Achebe at Leeds University

Richard Wilcocks writes:
It was not part of our LitFest, but a few of the people - mainly students of course - packed into the Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre yesterday evening could be counted as known LitFest supporters, and the university could be described as being on the edge of Headingley...

It was unforgettable.  There was the great man himself, Professor Chinua Achebe, "the father of modern African writing", reading some of his poems to a rapt and highly reverent audience in a quiet, slightly quavering voice. Many had brought with them copies of his books. Generations all over the world have studied Things Fall Apart. He was introduced by Professor Martin Banham, who remembered his last visit to Leeds 46 years ago as part of a celebration of Commonwealth literature and who stressed how lucky we all were because Leeds was one of only two places where Chinua Achebe would read as part of his visit to Britain.

Amongst the poems was Vultures, probably the best-known, not least because it is in the AQA Anthology for GCSE English Literature in the Poetry from Other Cultures section - see this BBC website and listen to a reading accompanied by a slideshow. It was deeply moving to hear this disturbing poem from the poet's own mouth, at last.

Nelson Mandela's name was mentioned afterwards by a colleague in the audience who had first read Things Fall Apart in Uganda, and there is a definite link. Mandela read Achebe's work while incarcerated on Robben Island, and commented later that he was a man "in whose company the prison walls fell down".

1 comment:

  1. I was very interested to read about the evening spent with Chinua Achebe. I am sure it would be an unforgettable evening and to
    hear the words coming from the poet's own mouth would be a very moving experience.How wonderful it would have been if all students studying his works could have heard his voice.
    Reading the comments about Nelson Mandela brought to mind how another person incarcerated for a long time found couage from another writer- albeit a writer separated from the prisoner by three centuries.
    The Christian writer John Bunyan- very keen that his congegation, in Bedford, should have a permanent meeting place- before his death converted a barn for this purpose. This was replaced, in 1707, by a meeting house and in 1850 the present church in Bedford was erected on the site. In this church scenes from Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress' are depicted on the magnificent bronze entrance doors and in some of the finest examples of 20th and 21st century stained glass windows. Terry Waite, held hostage for over five years, received in captivity a post card showing one of the windows called 'A Shining Light'-depiciting John Bunyan writing his work 'The Pilgrim's Progress' in prison. Upon his release Waite spoke highly of the way the picture gave him hope and uplifted his spirits during his solitary confinement in Beirut.
    I am sure the organisers of the next Headingley LitFest will be busy getting ideas together for another successful event and I wish them all the very best.