October 20, 2005

Prof's Achebe Lecture Fosters Town-Gown Unity

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English Prof. Robert Morgan’s discussion on the relationship between Cornell’s 2005 New Student Reading Project novel, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” which begins the novel, brought diverse members of the Ithaca community out to the Tompkins County Public Library last night.

“This is one of the best examples of good town-gown collaboration,” said Gary J. Stewart, assistant director of government and community relations. He added that the programming gets better every year and looks to engage every segment of the Ithaca community. The winners of an essay contest on Things Fall Apart for high school students will be announced this week, showing that the Office of Community Relations wants to make Cornell’s New Student Reading Project novels as accessible to as many people as possible.

“Every year we’ve attempted to find new ways to embrace the book that Cornell selected, whether through debate or discussion,” said Susan Frey, assistant library director of Tompkins County Public Library.

The Ithaca community welcomes events like the one held last night.

“This is a community that wants to get together and discuss things,” said Sarah Glogowski, adult services librarian.

“Ithaca has a high level of literacy, and is an intellectual community,” Morgan said.

The themes and topics the discussion covered last night reflected the community’s interest in the book and how it interfaces with current affairs.

Charles W. Smith, a participant in the talk, asked about the timeliness of the choice for the novel, why it was picked this year.

Attendees responded to this query by citing the book’s exploration of how people deal with change – that they wish to hold on to older traditions – and the universality of values – that systems of order, law, nature, religion and family cross cultures.

Morgan began the discussion by explaining his personal connections with Things Fall Apart.

To elaborate on the apocalyptic theme in the book, Morgan said he was raised by religious fundamentalists 55 years ago who preached on the coming of the end of the world – that Stalin was the antichrist and that Russia was going to bomb the United States.

Morgan said his parents also donated money to missionaries traveling to Nigeria, which is the setting of Things Fall Apart.

“Chinua’s novel is about the end of native life in Africa and the beginning of a new era,” Morgan said, signaling, in that the novel focuses on the closing of the native African life, the theme of apocalypse.

Apocalypse appeals to people’s egos because it feeds the sense of being at the center of the world, according to Morgan. He added that it’s more comforting to think the world will die with us, rather than continuing on after we die.

With that springboard, Morgan went on to read key passages in Things Fall Apart and commented on the historical significance of “The Second Coming.”

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer