World literature acknowledges an immortal in the transition of Chinua Achebe whose quiet dignity brought unprecedented attention to African literature written in English, translated into more modern world languages than any other African writer before him and studied in every notable institution of learning around the world. As Aretino said upon the death of Michelangelo, the world has many kings but only one Michelangelo. I acknowledge that the world has many potentates but only one Achebe. He was the tree that made a forest, the one voice that travelled beyond the seven seas.
Chinua Achebe lived as the poet Robert Browning before him prescribed: he kept one end, writing, in view – and made everything else serve that end. Adversity and prosperity, war and peace, love and indifference all were transformed by that alchemist we knew as Chinua Achebe into a different substance universally recognised, and acclaimed, as literature. The total effect of that way of living cannot be calculated in simple terms. Achebe compelled attention, commanded respect. One did not have to agree with him but one had to listen to him. Few writers ever achieve that degree of relevance in their lifetimes. Achebe set out in the morning of his life to be the writer with whom you had to engage. Book after pertinent book, this wordsmith stunned the literary world with his writings. No one gave him any quarters, he had to fight for every inch of glorious ground.