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Achebe is Timeless….. Ruth Simmons, President Brown University

By Emma Okocha

”Eventually it is the artist and his works that survive. It is he who will determine the level, the standard and next path of the people’s civilization.”
– John Russworm quoting his anonymous writer, on the Launching in 1827 of the ”Freedom Journal,” the first African American Newspaper.

”Things fall Apart was the balm, keeping us alive in the face of tremendous suffering in prison” – Nelson Mandela to the BBC after release from jail.

”When an art transcends time, and touches the people from Japan to Iceland, Kenya to Chile, then that art or literature is an enduring treasure.

Those are the creations of gifted artists.  Achebe is one of the few world geniuses and certainly and unquestionably, one of the the best ever novelists. His ‘Things Fall Apart’ was extraordinary in the ’50’s and fifty years later, quite as profound as ever.”
– Ruth J. Simmons, President, Brown University to Emma Okocha, Vanguard, at Achebe Colloquium.

”That night the Mother of the Spirits walked the length and breadth of the clan, weeping for her murdered son. It was a terrible night. Not even the oldest man in Umuofia had ever heard such a strange and fearful sound, and it was never to be heard again.

It seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming – its own death…..On the next next day all the masked egwugwu of Umofia assembled in the market – place. The dreaded Otagagu came from Imo, and Ekwensu, dangling a white cock, arrived from Uli. It was a terrible gathering.

The eerie voices of countless spirits, the bells that clattered behind some of them, and the clash of matchets as they ran forwards and backwards and saluted one another, sent tremors of fear into every heart.

For the first time in living memory the scared bull roarer was heard in broad day light.”

”The band of egwugwu moved like a furious whirlwind …..Ajofia was the leading egwugwu of Umuofia. He was the spokesman of the nine administrators who administered justice in the clan. He then addressed Mr. Smith, and as he spoke clouds of smoke rose from his head.”

”The body of the white man, do you know me?”

”Our men and sons have already joined the ranks of the stranger. They have joined his religion and they help to uphold his government…our own people who are following their way have been given power. ….How can you think we can fight when our brothers have turned against us? The White man is very clever.

He came quietly, and peaceably with his religion….he has won our brothers , and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

Chinua Achebe , Things Fall Apart, Heinemann, Ibadan:1958, pages124-132.

Professor of Comparative Literature and the President, Brown University, Rhode Island, has described as  ”timeless, superb, enduring treasure, the gifted art of Chinua Achebe.  In an exclusive interview with the Vanguard at a dinner, to mark the end of the Achebe Colloquium hosted by her University, Professor Ruth Simmons revealed that Brown has appointed Achebe , Professor in the African Studies department of the University.

Explaining further to our correspondent the gains of the Achebe appointment, Simmons disclosed that Brown is interested in providing  ”a home for gifted writers.”

She stressed that Achebe’s appointment with Brown ensures that ”this man who has done a lot for Nigerians and Africans, is provided with the right environment to enable teachers, other writers and students to interact with him.  ”We shall put some structure around him and see that his writings are protected, ” she added.

Professor Simmons who observed that the Colloquium has provided frank discussions on the state of affairs in Nigeria, underlining ‘the centrality of that country in African affairs.’ Simmons predicted that future events would repeat the successes of the inaugural Achebe Colloquium.

Declaring that, ”Achebe is a our jewel, a serious and very respected scholar,  the Professor of Romance Language, stressed that the Achebe Colloquium would in future continue to provide the forum and would discuss issues of importance in the US/Africa relations.

Professor Simmons, who as the  Smith College President, the largest womens’ college in the US, launched an engineering program, assured Vanguard that her tenure in Brown would pursue policies that would help African Universities on capacity building. To that end,  she disclosed that Brown has ties with the South African University of Capetown.

A devoted Africanist, Professor Ruth Simmons was the recipient of the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement award and in 2001 was the recipient of the United Negro Fund President’s award.

A featured Speaker in the White House,  World Economic Forum, Professor Simmons is a member of  the Howard Board of Trustees and was in 2004, honored with the highly revered Eleanor Roosevelt Valkill medal.

Panelists and discussants in the one day Colloquium include; John Stremlau, Vice President , Peace Programs, the Carter Center, Abiola  Francis Irele, Visiting Professor of African Studies, Harvard, Eric Silla, Special Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, US Department of State. Ambassador N. Lyman, former US Envoy to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, General Odumegwu Ojukwu , Professor Wole Soyinka, Governor Peter Obi, Senator Ben Obi, Ken Nnamani, former Nigerian President of the Senate, Obiora Udechuchukwu, Dana Professor , St. Lawrence University,  Niger Delta Leader, Chief Solomon Asemota SAN, Professor ABC Nwosu, Tony Isiama, Chairman AC, USA, Victor Umeh, Chairman, APGA, Omoyele Sowore, Publisher, Sahara Reports, Aloy Ejimakor, CEO African Herald Express, Prof.Chudi Uwazuruike, City University, NY, Sonala Olumhense, and Innocent Chukwumah, Transistion Monitoring Group [2006-2007]


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