Nigerian author Chinua Achebe dies at 82

March 22, 2013 at 8:11 AM ET

Afp/getty Images / AFP - Getty Images file /
Author Chinua Achebe outside his home at Ogidi, eastern Nigeria, in 1999.

Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist and poet whose 1958 novel "Things Fall Apart" addressed the effects of colonialism on African society, has died. He was 82.

Achebe died following a brief illness, his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said Friday. He added that the author's family has requested privacy.

"We join the world in mourning Chinua Achebe's death," John Makinson, chairman and chief executive of Penguin Group, said in a statement. "He was a giant, and a wise and kind man. We are honored to have published his final book, which, like all of his books, will outlast us all."

Achebe’s breakthrough novel focused on the clash between Western and traditional values. It told the story of colonialism for the first time from an African perspective, and has sold more than 10 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages.

Nelson Mandela has credited Achebe for bringing "Africa to the rest of the world" and called him "the writer in whose company the prison walls came down."

Achebe played a pivotal role in the development of African literature. He is the author of more than 20 books, including novels, short stories, essays and poetry collections. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction.

Achebe was born Nov. 16, 1930 and raised in the village of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria. After graduating from college, he started a radio career that ended abruptly in 1966 during the national upheaval that led to Nigeria’s three-year civil conflict, known as the Biafran War. Achebe then joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various diplomatic and fund-raising missions.

He was known as an outspoken critic of successive dictatorship governments in Nigeria, often refusing to accept literary honors from his home country in protest.

Last year, Achebe published his final book, "There Was a Country," a memoir about the three-year Biafran War.

Russell Perreault, publicity director for the writer’s earlier publisher, Random House, noted Achebe once said, "If you don't like someone's story, write your own."

"We are saddened by the death of the 'Father of African literature' Chinua Achebe," Perreault said. "We are grateful that he told his story and left us with a legacy of great literature and a better understanding of Africa."

At the time of his death, Achebe was a professor of Africana studies at Brown University. Among his activities at the school was the annual Achebe Colloquium on Africa, an international gathering of scholars, policymakers, and others who shared interest in current day African affairs.

"He was more than just a colleague, faculty member, and teacher at Brown. He was a gift to the world," said Corey D.B. Walker, chair of Brown’s Department of Africana studies. "At a time like this we could draw many words of wisdom and comfort from the deep wells of various African cultures and traditions to honor him. The most fitting is the simple and elegant phrase, 'A great tree has fallen.'"

Prior to Brown, Achebe had taught for more than 15 years at Bard College. He moved there shortly after a car accident in 1990 left him paralyzed from the waist down.

He and his wife, Christie Okoli, had four children.

Reuters contributed to this report.