The New Gong Magazine

Publishers of New Writing and Images                                                    
Interview With Chinua Achebe
By Dulue Mbachu

In April 1990 I was among hundreds of scholars and literary
enthusiasts from around the world that gathered at the
University of Nigeria, Nsukka to celebrate Chinua Achebe
as he turned 60. For me a special moment came when
Achebe yielded to my pestering and gave me a short
interview on his writing and the state of Nigeria. Days later
when I visited his residence in the company of a friend,
Achebe recognised me immediately and wanted to know if I
found the interview useful. The answer was yes but for the
next 17 years the interview was to remain my private
conversation with a mentor. Here I'm sharing excerpts with
one and all for the first time.

Your literary accomplishments are indeed great. Do you feel
complete or do you feel like you've not even started?

No, I don't feel either way, they're just two extremes. I'm a
moderate person, I'm always in the middle. I don't feel satisfied
nor empty. In other words, I'm half-way, yes, halfway: which is what
sixty is.

In Anthills of the Savannah you make greater use of pidgin
English than in your previous works, does that represent a
strategy for coping with the language problem? it doesn't. Well, since you say I make more use I guess
you must've counted the lines. But I haven't, I don't really know.
Certainly there are more people using that language normally in
their day to day life in that book than I have in my other novels. I
think that must be the reason, because if you have a central - well
Elewa, I think, must be called one of the central characters and
she speaks pidgin...and her friends. You have the taxi driver
giving a good slice of the action, especially when Chris is on the
run and he is now at the mercy of pidgin-speaking people. I think
that's the nature of the story rather than a different approach on
the question of language. I don't accept the notion of some
people that we should write our novels in pidgin. I think that is just
one of those hare-brained ideas Pidgin is there like any other
language, so is Igbo, so is Yoruba, so is English and all other
languages, and they're all available.

Fewer people can afford to buy books and fewer people are
going to school. How do you feel about this? It means perhaps
fewer people are going to have access to your ideas as
expressed in your books?

Quite frankly i do not mourn because of that so much as for the
fact of the thing you say are happening. In other words, the fact
that fewer people are able to buy books means that fewer people
have enough money. That is more important than the fact that
they're not going to buy my books. The fact that people are not
going to school is far more important than that they're not reading
my books. So what I mean is like when you're told that a house
has fallen and you're saying what about the ceiling? The ceiling
will fall with the house. The real tragedy is that people are
suffering, they're not able to have enough to eat let alone buy
books. People are not going to school, they're not getting
education, and reading my books is just one small segment of
education. The main thing has already happened. So I'm not
mourning my losses as it would be quite outrageous to do that.

Which do you consider more important for national security:
better pay for teachers or better pay for soldiers?

Security? I'm not an expert in national security. I really don't know
what people mean when they talk about national security. But
obviously, as between better pay for teachers and soldiers,
obviously better pay for teachers, any day, any hour of the day.

What is your advice for the younger generation of Africans who
want to make a future of writing?

Well, it's very difficult; they have to know that before hand.
Because if they're going into it, they should know that what it
takes is not just the fanciful notions, you know, especially how
writers look, what they wear or something. They should really
have the energy plus the stuff. You know the story of a young
man who became mad? He just became mad, and he was just
stamping up and down the market. And the older mad man who
was just watching him after a time called him and said: "This thing
you entering, do you think you can do it?" He told him this thing is
for life and you're already wasting so much energy.  (Laughter)