(IR)REVERENCE: A conference in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s novel "Arrow of God." October 6-9, 2014
Convened at Haverford, Swarthmore, and Bryn Mawr Colleges
A Multi-media Conference
In 1964 Chinua Achebe published his novel Arrow of God. There have been events across the world celebrating the 50th anniversary of this novel. Haverford, Swarthmore, and Bryn Mawr Colleges are convening a conference from 6-9 October, 2014 in recognition of this landmark text. There will be a series of events across the three campuses featuring participants from a variety of fields in the sciences, humanities, and arts. Guests, students, and faculty will engage in an extended dialogue that begins with the significance of Achebe’s work and extends into the work of young artists and contemporary issues that reverberate with his writing’s influence.
Arrow of God is a novel about the powerful and the sacred, culture and the colonial encounter, history and moral choice. It shows Achebe at the height of his power as a storyteller who reinvents the potential power of telling tales. He interweaves nuanced details of daily life with a dramatic tale of political intrigue in the midst of the colonial encounter in a fictionalized Igboland. As in all of his novels, Achebe creates complex characters whose motivations, desires, and flaws at once resonate with particular life-worlds and with broader humanist ideas of the tragic hero. His stories focus on the moral, political, and emotional choices of people caught up in historical transformations over which they have little control.
Achebe’s concern with myth, memory, history, power, and the processes of telling open-ended stories have inspired our focus on the notion of (ir)reverence. While Things Fall Apart is familiar to many readers, Arrow of God is seen by many critics as his masterwork. While Achebe’s work is playful and humorous, it simultaneously offers profound reflections on spirituality, choice, and possible futures. His eye for emotional and social detail is shaped by a critique of racism, gendered inequality, and colonial domination. Achebe’s reinvention of the novel through the use of proverbial speech is an organizing principle showing his penchant for double voicing; simultaneously saying something and its opposite, poking fun in sincere tones, chastising with a humorous twinkle in his eye. This conference traces continuities and discontinuities across half a century and a global network of places to triangulate on issues of moral, political, and cultural transformation at the core of Achebe’s work and contemporary African expression. Our main focus will be examining irreverence as a technique for living, a way to confront power, and method of telling stories.
Sponsored by Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities, Koshland Integrated Natural Science Center, Distinguished Visitors Office, Anthropology, Biology, English, Office of Multicultural Affairs, First Year Writing (Haverford); African Consortium, Black Studies, French and Francophone Studies (Swarthmore); Education, Africana Studies, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant to Bryn Mawr College for "Creating a Vital and Sustainable Curriculum for the 21st Century" (Bryn Mawr).