Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Man of the Year Lived in Our House and the Case of the Missing Manuscript

As my readers know, I often like to say that Amherst is the center of the universe.

We have had some amazing residents in our town from famous authors to renowned scientists and humanitarians and there are still many in the midst that inspire.

As a Brown University alumna (4 times over) and officially also a Harvard alumna (having been a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study), I stay in touch with these communities and periodically also catch up with news by checking out their websites.

Today I found out on the Brown University website that Chinua Achebe, the renowned Nigerian-born novelist, former professor at UMass Amherst and Amherst resident (wait -- there is more, so do read on), and now professor at Brown University, has been selected as The Man of the Year by The Guardian.

The lovely article and tribute begins with the following paragraph:

GREATNESS is an attribute much in retreat in our society these days. But it is the quality that is imperative for a nation, for a people to make progress. Greatness is the depth of character that is unswayed by material attraction and superficial rewards, especially of the sort that is flaunted by persons of lesser pedigree, and craved by many, including sundry jobbers and petty crooks. Greatness is the strength to say no when everything and everyone else seems swept away by a certain madness that benumbs the senses. Greatness is the ability to look past the present and see beyond the future. It is the courage to envision a better society, to insist on what is right, on what is proper to realize that better society.

Amazingly, and for those of my readers who like doing research it is not hard to confirm, Chinua Achebe once lived in our house on Blackberry Lane.

The connections are even stronger. One of my husband's colleagues at the University of Hartford, Professor Joyce Ashuntantang, who was featured in a Faculty column (it's the second one) in a recent issue of The Observer, which is online and can be accessed here, discovered that Achebe's original manuscript for Things Fall Apart, his groundbreaking 1958 work and first novel, was missing. She has been trying to track it down and my husband promised her that should we find it on our home (unlikely since it was given to a Cameroonian professor then living in the US) that we would let her know. She is also from Cameroon and was completely amazed when my husband told her that we live in Amherst in Achebe's former home!

I very much enjoyed Professor Ashuntantang's remarks in the article as to why finding the original manuscript is important; according to her: it may help to reveal Achebe’s thought process as he wrote. Although he told me that he was quite a neat writer and did not change anything, the manuscript may reveal otherwise. Even minor changes may prove to be important to literary critics and historians. The truth is, written literature depends on effective record keeping as a basis for new writing.

Who doesn't love a great mystery!