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Before he published his first book, Chinua Achebe had already gathered some experience as a writer. He had written many short stories and some of his short stories were published while he was a student of the University of Ibadan. They were featured in University Herald, the campus magazine; and in his third year at the University of Ibadan, he was invited to join the editorial committee. Not too long after that, the magazine appointed him as editor.

After graduating, Achebe worked in a small school in his village for a short while. He moved to Enugu when he was recruited by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). Afterwards, he moved again to Lagos to work in the Talks Department of the NBC. A large part of his job at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service was to edit and read through scripts with immaculate attention to detail. It was tedious work, but all that time spent poring over scripts might have been the spark to Achebe’s literary fuel. During this period, what Achebe referred to as a kind of ‘madness’ seized him and he wrote Okonkwo’s story by hand until it became a manuscript. In his memoir titled There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, Achebe wrote about the feeling:

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“I was conscripted by the story, and I was writing it at all times – whenever there was an opening. It felt like a sentence, an imprisonment of creativity.”

Because it was handwritten, Achebe felt the manuscript didn’t look too good. He saw an advertisement in a British magazine and decided to send the manuscript off for ‘polishing’. He went to the post office and mailed the only copy of his manuscript that he had. The agency replied and confirmed that they had received the manuscript, then demanded that Achebe send thirty-two pounds for production of the manuscript. Achebe consented and sent the money. Even though they must have received the money but the next two letters that Achebe sent to the agency was not replied for weeks.

Alarmed, Achebe went to a colleague in his department at NBC, Angela Beattie. Angela Beattie was the head of Achebe’s Department and a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) staff. Luckily, Angela was about to return to England on leave. She asked Achebe for the company address and paid the typing agency a visit when she arrived in London. The manager showed up quickly, and Angela Beattie said:

“Now, I am going back to Nigeria in three weeks, and when I get there, let us hope that the manuscript you took money to prepare has been received by its owner, or else you will hear more about it.”

Angela’s intervention worked. The manuscript was returned to Achebe. A beautifully typed copy of Things Fall Apart came with the mail a few weeks later. 

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As he wrote of the incident in his memoir, Achebe confessed:

“I look back now at those events and state categorically that had the manuscript been lost I most certainly would have been irreversibly discouraged from continuing my writing career.”

Chinua Achebe graduated from University in 1953 and chose to pursue a career in broadcasting. He was promoted to Head of Talks Section at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service in 1957, then Controller of Eastern Region Stations in 1959. In 1961, he became Director of External Broadcasting. He wrote Things Fall Apart in the early years of his career at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, in 1958. The book brought him a sudden and stunning success, while his diligence distinguished him at work. By the time Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, Chinua Achebe was a director at the NBC and a nationally respected intellectual. 


There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe


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This article was first published on 14th November 2019


Tochi Onwubiko is a 'Jack' of many trades. A designer, book editor, lawyer and happy freelance writer. She enjoys drinking tea, sitting in quiet spaces, and reading thick books. She hopes to publish books one day. She also loves a good house party. If you know about any good books or parties, leave a comment on one of her posts.

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