Two famed chroniclers of postcolonial Africa offer fresh testimony
IN 1956, CHINUA ACHEBE, then twenty-six years old, worked as director of external broadcasting at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He was a TV exec by day, but at night he worked furiously on the manuscript for his first novel. He’d been scribbling this thing out by hand, but when he was done he wanted to have a “good-looking manuscript,” so he sent it off to a company in England that advertised its “ability to transform a manuscript through typing into an attractive document.” The naive kid then sent the only copy of his manuscript to the agency. In a few weeks he received a letter from the company acknowledging receipt of the book and requesting thirty-two pounds to produce the typed version. This was no chump change to young Achebe; it was, he notes, “a significant slice of my salary.” But he sent it anyway.
You know, of course, what happened next. Bubkes—a whole lot of nothing. Six weeks passed and Achebe heard no word, received no typed manuscript, so he wrote to the agency in London, but heard nothing back. They had the only copy of his first novel. Chinua Achebe was fucked.
Luckily, his job at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation had him working with a British woman, Angela Beattie, who’d been a producer at the BBC. Achebe talked to her about what had happened to his novel, and Beattie was so incensed that when she next traveled to England she visited the typing agency personally. She gave the manager there the kind of hell that only well-connected people are able to give: the kind that works. Weeks later, Achebe received “a handsome package in the mail.”
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