06/04/2013 06:17 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2013

Obama, Others Extol Achebe's Legacy

A celebration of life for the late renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe was held on June 2, 2013 at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington DC.

An evocative Arts exhibition featuring Obiora Udechukwu and other artists, as well as a reception began the celebrations. While the background Afro-beat music of Eme and Heteru electrified the audience. Other musical and dance acts of the evening for Achebe's celebration were the riveting Igbo masquerade dancers, such as "Oja (Ojii) Onu" "Aga ba Masquerade, and "Ijele Masquerade, who performed to honor the dead, a person they believed lived in "immortal state" in spiritual world.

In her introductory remarks, the Mistress of Ceremonies Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, a director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art, says the lesson Professor Achebe taught us lives on. She further described him as a gentleman from Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria who became a literary icon, and whose classic novel "Things Fall Apart" was translated into 60 languages.

Dr. Derrick Harkins who said the opening prayer extolled Achebe's writing for speaking truth to power and conscience. For Dr. Ruth Simmons, former President of Brown University, while rendering her own tributes eulogized Achebe as a sage, peacemaker, statesman, groundbreaking artist who represents for her a complete human being. She stated further that her first reading of Achebe was to say the least epiphany.

A letter delivered by Dr. Joe Leonard Jr. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Agriculture, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama described Professor Achebe:
"A revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador, Chinua shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art."

Other highlights of the events were a tribute by poet, Sonia Sanchez, Simon Gikandi a Professor at Princeton University, who read from Achebe's poem "Beware Soul Brother." Scott Moyers the publisher of the Penguin Press.

Jules Chametzky, Professor Emeritus of University of Massachusetts Amherst, where Achebe spent time in the 1970s and 80s, remembered vividly how Achebe came to his class in 1972 and talked about Biafra war. He described the second transformation of Achebe as his critique of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" he opined that the essay which was published in The Massachusetts Review changed literary criticism.

The Francesca Harper Project provided symmetry ballet to test the aesthetic boundaries.
The Chuck Mike theatre group engaged an enthusiastic crowd with a theatrical production of a scene from "Things Fall Apart" adapted by Biyi Bandele. Chuck Mike had the audience burst out laughing with his witty and caustically funny narration of his experiences in Nigeria; and the idiosyncratic gestures of Nigerians to response with the phrase "We thank God" when asked a variety of questions in various scenarios.

One of the heartfelt moving tributes for the late Achebe were delivered by his grandchildren, represented by Chochi who began her speech by quoting Abraham Lincoln "You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was."

They remembered their grandfather left a legacy behind when he died. They remembered he left them wisdom, he left them his shoes, they said they must forget tears to celebrate his legacy, his shoes, and accept responsibility to live life with dignity.