Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe died last week at the age of 82. Achebe’s most famous novel, Things Fall Apart, a trenchant exploration of colonialism and culture, has long been a staple of high school and college reading lists. A New York Times tribute highlights its appeal to teachers and students:
In many respects "Things Fall Apart" is the "To Kill A Mockingbird" of African literature: accessible but stinging, its layers peeling over the course of multiple readings. ... What sticks with you about the novel is its sensitive investigation, often through folk tales, of how culture functions and what it means.
Meanwhile, José Vilson, a math teacher and writer in New York, recalls the impact the book had on him when he first read it in high school:
I finally had the pieces of a language no one could possibly teach me. The fire I felt ever since I read To Kill A Mockingbird, watched "The Eyes on the Prize" documentary, or witnessed cousin after misguided cousin go to jail finally had an air source and a way to spark. Through college, I learned more about the people who eventually became my heroes: Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sanchez, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., bell hooks, and a whole host of local and international leaders who through their works shaped my vision through the world.
But I owe Chinua everything. His passing only reminded me of the importance of putting one's experience on paper, for these stories told through an oral history needed print, in case future generations seek to learn languages they can't pick up as an elective.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.