Acclaimed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who wrote "Things Fall Apart," died Thursday in Boston after a brief illness. He was 82.
Achebe, often called the father of African literature, was best known for "Things Fall Apart," about the Igbo culture and the impact of colonialism on Africa. The novel, published in 1958, sold more than 12 million copies and was translated into dozens of languages.
Africans, the author announced, had their own history, their own celebrities and reputations. Centuries of being defined by the West were about to end, a transformation led by Achebe, who continued for decades to rewrite and reclaim the history of his native country.
Achebe lived through and helped define traumatic change in Nigeria, from independence to dictatorship to the disastrous war between Nigeria and the breakaway country of Biafra in the late 1960s.
He knew the prestige of serving on government commissions and the fear of being declared an enemy of the state. He spent much of his adult life in the United States but never stopped calling for democracy in Nigeria or resisting literary honors from a government he refused to accept.
In 2007, he was awarded the Man Booker prize for his life's work.
Achebe's family issued a statement calling him one of the great literary voices of his time. The Nelson Mandela Center of Memory described him as "a great African writer and thinker." Former South African President Nelson Mandela referred to Achebe as a writer "in whose company the prison walls fell down," said a spokesman for the center, Sello Hatang.
Achebe, who was professor of African studies at Brown University in Providence, loved and missed Nigeria immensely but condemned its authorities and widespread government corruption.
Achebe's death was announced by a spokesman for the government in his home state of Anambra, Nigeria. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Friday called Achebe "a cultural icon" and said he felt immensely sad when he learned of his death.
"Achebe's frank, truthful and fearless interventions in national affairs will be greatly missed at home in Nigeria, because while others may have disagreed with his views, most Nigerians never doubted his immense patriotism and sincere commitment to the building of a greater, more united and prosperous nation that all Africans and the entire black race could be proud of," he said in a statement.
In 2009, Achebe returned to Nigeria for the first time in a decade, when thousands flocked to the airport to greet him.
Achebe lived in America after being in a car accident in 1990 that left him in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.