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Shared Academic Experience: Class of 2021 and Transfer Students

A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe

A copy of A Man of the People will be mailed to your home address in mid-July, courtesy of the Sphinx Foundation at Dartmouth.

We thank them for their generosity in support of new students.


Each year, a member of the Dartmouth faculty is asked to curate a Shared Academic Experience to meaningfully engage incoming students and encourage community dialogue and personal reflection.

This year, Jesse Weaver Shipley, a Professor in the African and African American Studies Department, has selected the book A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe to launch our shared "Experience."

In mid-July, you will receive at your home address a paperback version of A Man of the People. The purchase of the books and their mailing are courtesy of the Sphinx Foundation at Dartmouth. If you have a print-based disability and require an alternative format, please contact Student Accessibility Services.

Please read the book and watch for communication later in the summer, in preparation for Professor Shipley's Shared Academic Experience presentation during Orientation.

Enjoy! We'll talk again soon ...

Background Information

From Professor Shipley on A Man of the People:

Chinua Achebe’s novel A Man of the People is a story of political change, personal desire, and universal ideas of freedom. I chose this novel for your initial academic experience at Dartmouth because it allows us to ruminate on the relationship between creative work and social analysis. It presents a philosophical map for thinking about what constitutes knowledge and education, but it does so with irreverence. It is at once a satiric political commentary and a coming of age tale.

Set in a moment of political uncertainty, the novel focuses on the struggle between a seemingly corrupt politician who has risen to power from his position as a school teacher, and his young protégé turned rival. As Achebe once explained to me, many lead characters in his novels are powerful yet flawed men who yearn for change but are in some manner stuck psychologically and socially. A Man of the People starts in a deceptively slow manner and builds to a dramatic conclusion. The book was published just before the 1966 Nigerian military coup d’état. As the novel ends with its own political upheaval, the Nigerian authorities at the time of publication became suspicious as to whether Achebe was himself involved in plotting the government’s overthrow. In all of this, I always wonder who exactly is “the man of the people” to which the title refers.

Chinua Achebe is one of the most important writers of the 20th century and is considered the founding figure of contemporary African fiction. He is first of all a brilliant storyteller, spinning tales that are deceptively simple but work on many levels at once. He sprinkles his tales with proverbs, placing them in the mouths of characters who help readers understand the worlds he has created. His first and best-known novel Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, two years before Nigeria won independence from British colonial rule. It explores how people in a fictionalized Igbo village deal with the arrival of European missionaries. It set the tone for the next generation of modern African writers, as well as musicians and artists, intent on pushing the boundaries of creativity to explore the interiority of the artist as well as political and cultural life.

Some readers make the mistake of taking Achebe’s work at face value. But his novels are complex multi-vocal conversations filled with nuanced details and joking asides. His tales are character-driven, revolving around ordinary people struggling with moments of historical significance. In focusing on life in a postcolonial African nation-state, he achieves what all great writers do in creating a multifaceted world in which various characters are put in dialogue as proxies for deeper philosophical deliberations. I hope that this novel invokes in you the feeling of the 1960s as a bygone era of political idealism and impossibility, but that it also allows your mind to wander in new future-oriented creative directions.


Jesse Weaver Shipley, Professor of African and African American Studies at Dartmouth College, is an ethnographer, filmmaker, and artist. His work explores the links between aesthetics and politics by focusing on performances and popular cultures in the midst of changing economic regimes and forms of sovereignty. He has conducted field research in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Britain, and the United States focusing on the complex realities of urban life, labor, race, gender, mobility, and new media technologies.

He is the author of two books: Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music and Trickster Theatre: The Poetics of Freedom in Urban Africa. His writings appear in journals including Public Culture, American Ethnologist, Journal of Popular Music Studies, American Anthropologist, Cultural Anthropology, and Social Text. He has contributed to, Chimurenga, and His film work includes feature documentaries Living the Hiplife: Musical Life in the Streets of Accra and Is It Sweet? Tales of an African Superstar in New York; multi-channel video installations Black Star and High Tea; and (in collaboration with Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll) the multimedia installation Investigated.

He is currently working on a book on political aesthetics and a second book on the relationship between parody and violence.

Last Updated: 7/14/17