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Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has been traveling the country recently as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his novel Things Fall Apart, the first modern African novel to penetrate the West, a singular influence on much of African literature since then, and staple of pretty much every comp-lit class in this country. (Scott Timberg’s piece in the Los Angeles Times last month should get you up to speed.) An event in New York last month honoring the book was pretty star-studded—Chris Abani, Colum McCann, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and more attended—at last night’s event at the Washington Post, well, wasn’t. But it was entertaining regardless: In his brief speech, he noted that he was inspired to write the novel in part because “when I see characters denied language, something very serious is happening.” African characters in Western fiction were often reduced to “screeching, screaming, howling, but rarely speaking…The longest sentence spoken by an African in Heart of Darkness is eight words long.”

Achebe reads a passage from Things Fall Apart in the video below. (Apologies for the shot of the video screen and not the man himself; it was the best shot possible, given my perch.)