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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 497-501
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The Chinua Achebe Special Section
R. Victoria Arana, Guest Editor
In his 1996 Bates College Commencement Address, Chinua Achebe spoke of America's "dazzling achievements in industry and technology; in agriculture; in business, science and medicine; and in literature, music, and film"—achievements possible, as he put it, in "an open society." But he was quick to point out a great accompanying peril and the best defense against that peril: "An open society, like an open mind, will receive the good and the bad, the useful as well as the useless. The ability to recognize the one from the other, no matter the packaging, is the hallmark of a truly educated mind. A superabundance of goods and services does not simplify but compounds the problem." There in miniature is Achebe's remarkable vision of a Good Society: it is one that cultivates achievements, an appreciation for achievements, open-mindedness, and a keen sense of the good and the useful, and it is a society that does not descend into blind hostilities and "bored unconcern" for the others in our world. The last two paragraphs of Achebe's address are "hallmark" Achebe:
The world is big. Some people are unable to comprehend that simple fact. They want the world on their own terms, its peoples just like them and their friends, its places like the manicured little patch on which they live. But this is a foolish and blind wish. Diversity is not an abnormality but the very reality of our planet. The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek out permission to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless varieties. Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have; narrowness of heart and mind is not.
No one is, or should be, so naive as to believe that all the problems of the world will be solved by good will and civility alone. Indeed, it may well be true that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. But it is at the same time inconceivable that the road to the other place will be paved with bad intentions. Good intentions may not be enough, but they are better than bad intentions.
In recognition of Chinua Achebe's life-long dedication to an exploration of "the human world" and his critique of "narrowness of heart and mind," the faculty of the Department of English at Howard University dedicated its 1998 Annual Heart's Day festivities to a celebration of "The Achievement of Chinua Achebe." A scholarly [End Page 497] conference was organized as well as a gala dinner featuring music, a dance troupe, and tributes presented by writers, government officials, diplomats, and academics from around the world. The Heart's Day events took place on 14 February 1998, and they drew capacity crowds.
A striking feature of the academic papers presented at the 1998 Heart's Day Conference was their uncoerced thematic accord. The broad subject we proposed to explore was Achebe's achievement; what emerged as a result was that, from different starting positions, each paper examined some aspect of Chinua Achebe's thoughts on responsibility. A cursory review seems in order here. In her welcoming address "Chinua Achebe and the Humanities at Howard," Eleanor W. Traylor highlighted the Achebe of Morning Yet on Creation Day, who in that work defined The Writer (Achebe's own capitals) as one "march[ing] in front"—that is, as a conscientious re-educator and regenerator of his community. Mbye Cham, in his paper "Language Matters in African Writing: The Example of Chinua Achebe," clarified the nature of the obligation that Achebe assumes in writing in an English that is decidedly not "the language of the oppressors," but is molded "to exploit creatively the flexibility and expressive resources of one's [African as well as European] linguistic heritage and legacy." Alinda Sumers, in her paper "Hybrid Intimations in Things Fall Apart: Igbo Culture and World Literature," outlined the rich texture of allusions both to world literature and Igbo cosmology and suggested...