My books have done extremely well, I know. But I don't honestly feel much different from when I began to write. I still think we have a long way to go. I suppose my name means more in Nigeria today than it did five years ago. But I feel the job that literature should do in our community has not even started. It's not yet part of the life of the nation. We are still at the beginning. It's a big beginning, because now we are catching the next generation in the schools. When I was their age, I had nothing to read that had any relevance to my own environment.
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The reality of today, different as it is from the reality of my society one hundred years ago, is and can be important if we have the energy and the inclination to challenge it, to go out and engage with its peculiarities, with the things that we do not understand. The real danger is the tendency to retreat into the obvious, the tendency to be frightened by the richness of the world and to clutch what we always have understood.
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It's so easy to get into the same routine. A novel every two years; perhaps, improving technique. But I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in doing something fundamentally important--and therefore, it needs time. And what I've been doing, really, is avoiding this pressure to get into the habit of one novel a year. This is what is expected of novelists. And I have never been really too much concerned with doing what is expected of novelists, or writers, or artists. I want to do what I believe is important.
Man is sitting disconsolate on an anthill one morning. God asks him what the matter is and man replies that the soil is too swampy for the cultivation of the yams which God has directed him to grow. God tells him to bring in a blacksmith to dry the soil with his bellows. The contribution of humanity to this creation is so important. God could have made the world perfect if he had wanted. But he made it the way it is. So that there is a constant need for us to discuss and cooperate to make it more habitable, so the soil can yield, you see.
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Mr. Brown had thought of nothing but numbers. He should have known that the kingdom of God did not depend on large crowds. Our Lord Himself stressed the importance of fewness. Narrow is the way and few the number. To fill the Lord's holy temple with an idolatrous crowd clamoring for signs was a folly of everlasting consequence. Our Lord used the whip only once in His life - to drive the crowd away from His church.
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If we have any role at all, I think it's the role of optimism, not blind or stupid optimism, but the kind which is meaningful, one that is rather close to that notion of the world which is not perfect, but which can be improved. In other words, we don't just sit and hope that things will work out; we have a role to play to make that come about.
Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a lump of white chalk. "I have kola, " he announced when he sat down, and passed the disc over to his guest. "Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it, " replied Okoye passing back the disc. "No, it is for you, I think, " and they argued like this for a few moments before Unoka accepted the honor of breaking the kola. Okoye, meanwhile, took the lump of chalk, drew some lines on the floor, and then painted his big toe.
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A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.
The foreign correspondent is frequently the only means of getting an important story told, or of drawing the world's attention to disasters in the making or being covered up. Such an important role is risky in more ways than one. It can expose the correspondent to actual physical danger; but there is also the moral danger of indulging in sensationalism and dehumanizing the sufferer. This danger immediately raises the question of the character and attitude of the correspondent, because the same qualities of mind which in the past separated a Conrad from a Livingstone, or a Gainsborough from the anonymous painter of Francis Williams, are still present and active in the world today. Perhaps this difference can best be put in one phrase: the presence or absence of respect for the human person.
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she was sensitive enough and intelligent enough to understand, and her literary education could not but have sharpened her perception of the evidence before her eyes: that in the absurd raffle-draw that apportioned the destinies of post-colonial African societies two people starting off even as identical twins in the morning might quiet easily find themselves in the evening one as President shitting on the heads of the people and the other a nightman carrying the people's shit in buckets on his head.
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As they stood there together, Ekwefi's mind went back to the days when they were young. She had married Anene because OKonkwo was too poor then to marry. Two years after her marriage to Anene she could bear it no longer and she ran away to Okonkwo. It had been early in the morning. The moon was shining. She was going to the stream to fetch water. Okonkwo's house was on the way to the stream. She went in and knocked at his door and he came out. Even in those days he was not a man of many words. He just carried her into his bed and in the darkness began to feel around her waist for the loose end of her cloth.
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Most writers who are beginners, if they are honest with themselves, will admit that they are praying for a readership as they begin to write. But it should be the quality of the craft not the audience, that should be the greatest motivating factor. For me, at least, I can declare that when I wrote THINGS FALL APART I couldn't have told anyone the day before it was accepted for publication that anybody was going to read it. There was no guarantee; nobody ever said to me, Go and write this, we will publish it and we will read it; it was just there. But my brother-in-law who was not a particularly voracious reader, told me that he read the novel through the night and it gave him a terrible headache the next morning. And I took that as an encouraging endorsement! The triumph of the written word is often attained when the writer achieves union and trust with the reader, who then becomes ready to be drawn deep into unfamiliar territory, walking in borrowed literary shoes so to speak, toward a deeper understanding of self or society, or of foreign peoples, cultures and situations.
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I feel that there has to be a purpose to what we do. If there was no hope at all, we should just sleep or drink and wait for death. But we don't want to do that. And why? I think something tells us that we should struggle. We don't really know why we should struggle, but we do, because we think it's better than sitting down and waiting for calamity.
In the end I began to understand. There is such a thing as absolute power over narrative. Those who secure this privilege for themselves can arrange stories about others pretty much where, and as, they like. Just as in corrupt, totalitarian regimes, those who exercise power over others can do anything.
The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.
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Some people flinch when you talk about art in the context of the needs of society thinking you are introducing something far too common for a discussion of art. Why should art have a purpose and a use? Art shouldn't be concerned with purpose and reason and need, they say. These are improper. But from the very beginning, it seems to me, stories have indeed been meant to be enjoyed, to appeal to that part of us which enjoys good form and good shape and good sound.
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