UMass Achebe Symposium

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    Amanda R. Waugh Lagji

    Interdisciplinary Studies Institute
    Forty Years After: Chinua Achebe and Africa in the Global Imagination
    A Special Symposium, University of Massachusetts 14-15 October
    Goodell Building: Wed 14 October, 2 – 6 pm; Thurs 15 October 1.30 – 6 pm

    On 18 February 1975, the great African writer Chinua Achebe presented a Chancellor’s Lecture at the University of Massachusetts, entitled ‘An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.’ The lecture was subsequently published in the Massachusetts Review, and since that time it has become celebrated and iconic: a remarkable moment both in literary criticism, and in a broader cultural assessment of how Africa has been perceived and represented in the Western world. In making his case, Achebe challenged the entire framework in which works of art would be judged, and in which the discussion of Africa would be sustained.

    To mark the 40th anniversary of this epic moment, as well as the 40th anniversary of the Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series at the University of Massachusetts, the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute will host a symposium devoted to the impact of Achebe’s lecture and its continuing legacy. In this, our aim is twofold: first, to commemorate the event itself, and its significance; and second, to bring the discussion into the present by reconsidering both Achebe’s importance, and the shape of things today in terms of the issues he raised. The question now is not only how Africa is represented in Europe and North America, but also how that question has been reversed—how Africans see the global North. Now we have a new generation of writers, creative thinkers and artists who have their own perspectives and are reimagining the order of things. As Achebe himself saw, the question of humanity lies at the heart of it: how the human was defined in the past; how we define it now as we go forward; and of the role Africa can and should play in that. How do we see the paths he laid out for us now? How do current writers and thinkers see their own roles? In taking on these questions, we want to underline our appreciation for Chinua Achebe and the extraordinary part he played as both writer and person. And we want to do so by taking his challenge seriously in our present times. We believe that one of the best ways we can pay tribute to him is by continuing the discussion he initiated.

    Presenters will include both those who knew Achebe in Amherst, and a generation of writers and thinkers who can address the continuing implications of his legacy. Speakers include NoViolet Bulawayo, Jules Chametzky, Johnnetta Cole, Achille Mbembe, Maaza Mengiste, Okey Ndibe, Caryl Phillips, Michael Thelwell, Esther Terry, and Chika Unigwe, among others. We trust that many who join us for the two-day symposium will contribute to our recollections and reflections.

    The symposium will be free and open to the public. Major funding for ‘Forty Years After’ comes from the Chancellor, University of Massachusetts Amherst; the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute; Office of International Relations, University of Massachusetts System; the College of Humanites and Fine Arts; Five College Lecture Fund; Department of History; Department of Afro-American Studies. Further information on the symposium, including the program, biographies of our speakers, and a full list of all our sponsors, is available on our website at

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