7th graders in Albert DeGrasse’s classes are about to begin reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Today they read Chinua’s recent NY Times obituary from March, 2013. Albert asked them to consider this quote from the article:
“I grew up among very eloquent elders,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2008. “In the village, or even in the church, which my father made sure we attended, there were eloquent speakers.” That eloquence was not reflected in Western books about Africa, he said, but he understood the challenge in trying to rectify the portrayal.
“You know that it’s going to be a battle to turn it around, to say to people, ‘That’s not the way my people respond in this situation, by unintelligible grunts, and so on; they would speak,’ ” Mr. Achebe said. “And it is that speech that I knew I wanted to be written down.”
They also watched 24 minutes (from 13:00 – 37:00) of An Evening with Chinua Achebe which commemorated his birthday and the book’s 50th anniversary in 2008. The video is available on the Library of Congress YouTube channel and embedded below. Considering the quote above, it is particularly interesting that in the video, Chinua specifically chose to read a passage where the protagonist, Okonkwo, is offered advice from an eloquent elder, Okonkwo’s maternal uncle. Before reading the passage aloud, Chinua says that the words have a very different meaning for him now than it did 50 years previously, probably as he is now an elder. Meta, indeed.