Florence Onyebuchi "Buchi" EmechetaOBE (21 July 1944 – 25 January 2017) was a Nigerian-born British novelist, based in the UK from 1962, who also wrote plays and autobiography, as well as work for children. She was the author of more than 20 books, including Second-Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979).
Her themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence and freedom through education gained recognition from critics and honours. Emecheta once described her stories as "stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical." She has been characterised as "the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948".
Early life and education
Emecheta was born on 21 July 1944, in Lagos, Nigeria, to Igbo parents, Alice (Okwuekwuhe) Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudinke. Her father was a railway worker and moulder. Due to the gender bias of the time, the young Buchi Emecheta was initially kept at home while her younger brother was sent to school; but after persuading her parents to consider the benefits of her education, she spent her early childhood at an all-girl's missionary school. When she was nine years old her father died ("of complications brought on by a wound contracted in the swamps of Burma, where he had been conscripted to fight for Lord Louis Mountbatten and the remnants of the British Empire"). A year later, Emecheta received a full scholarship to Methodist Girls' School, where she remained until the age of 16 when, in 1960, she married Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was 11 years old. Later that year, she gave birth to a daughter, and in 1961 their elder son was born.
Onwordi immediately moved to London to attend university and Emecheta joined him there with their first two children in 1962. She would give birth to five children in six years, three daughters and two sons It was an unhappy and sometimes violent marriage (as chronicled in her autobiographical writings such as Second-Class Citizen). To keep her sanity, Emecheta wrote in her spare time; however, her husband was deeply suspicious of her writing, and he ultimately burned her first manuscript; she said that The Bride Price, eventually published in 1976, would have been her first book but she had to rewrite it after it was destroyed: "There were five years between the two versions." At the age of 22, pregnant with her fifth child, Emecheta left her husband. While working to support her children alone, she earned a BSc (Hons) degree in Sociology in 1972 from the University of London. In her 1984 autobiography Head Above Water she wrote: "As for my survival for the past twenty years in England, from when I was a little over twenty, dragging four cold and dripping babies with me and pregnant with a fifth one—that is a miracle." She went on later to gain her PhD from the university in 1991.
She began writing about her experiences of Black British life in a regular column in the New Statesman, and a collection of these pieces became her first published book in 1972, In the Ditch. The semi-autobiographical novel chronicled the struggles of a main character named Adah, who is forced to live in a housing estate while working as a librarian to support her five children. Her second novel published two years later, Second-Class Citizen (Allison and Busby, 1974), also drew on Emecheta's own experiences, and both books were eventually published in one volume by Allison and Busby under the title Adah's Story (1983).
From 1965 to 1969, Emecheta worked as a library officer for the British Museum in London. From 1969 to 1976 she was a youth worker and sociologist for the Inner London Education Authority, and from 1976 to 1978 she worked as a community worker in Camden, North London, meanwhile continuing to produce further novels with Allison and Busby – The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977), The Joys of Motherhood (1979) and Destination Biafra (1982) – as well as the children's books Titch the Cat (1979) and Nowhere To Play (1980).
Following her success as an author, Emecheta travelled widely as a visiting professor and lecturer. She visited several American universities, including Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. From 1980 to 1981, she was senior resident fellow and visiting professor of English at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. From 1982 to 1983 Emecheta, together with her son Sylvester, ran the Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company, publishing her own work under the imprint, beginning with Double Yoke (1982). Emecheta received an Arts Council of Great Britain bursary, 1982–83, and was one of Granta′s "Best of the Young British Novelists" in 1983. In 1982 she lectured at Yale University, and the University of London, She became a Fellow at the University of London in 1986.
Over the years she worked with many cultural and literary organizations, including the Africa Centre, London, and with the Caine Prize for African Writing as a member of the Advisory Council.
Buchi Emecheta suffered a stroke in 2010, and she died in London on 25 January 2017, aged 72.
Awards and recognition
Among honours received during her literary career, Emecheta won the Jock Campbell Award from the New Statesman in 1978 for her novel The Slave Girl, and she was on Granta magazine's 1983 list of 20 "Best of Young British Novelists". She was a member of the British Home Secretary's Advisory Council on Race in 1979.
In September 2004, she appeared in the "A Great Day in London" photograph taken at the British Library, featuring 50 Black and Asian writers who have made major contributions to contemporary British literature. In 2005, she was made an OBE for services to literature.
She received an Honorary doctorate of literature from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1992.
In 2017, Emecheta's son Sylvester Onwordi announced the formation of The Buchi Emecheta Foundation - a charitable organisation promoting literary and educational projects in the UK and in Africa – which was launched in London on 3 February 2018 at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, together with new editions of several of her books published by Onwordi through his Omenala Press. Among participants in the celebration – "a gathering of writers, critics, artists, publishers, literature enthusiasts and culture activists from all over the world, including London and other parts of the U.K., France, Germany, U.S., Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and the Caribbean" – were Leila Aboulela, Carole Boyce Davies, Margaret Busby, James Currey, Louisa Uchum Egbunike, Ernest Emenyonu, Akachi Ezeigbo, Kadija George, Mpalive Msiska, Grace Nichols, Alastair Niven, Irenosen Okojie, Veronique Tadjo, Marie Linton Umeh, Wangui wa Goro, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and others.
- In the Ditch (1972)
- Second-Class Citizen (1974)
- The Bride Price (1976)
- The Slave Girl (1977); winner of 1978 Jock Campbell Award
- The Joys of Motherhood (1979)
- The Moonlight Bride (1981)
- Our Own Freedom (with photographs by Maggie Murray; 1981)
- Destination Biafra (1982)
- Naira Power (1982)
- Adah's Story [In the Ditch/Second-Class Citizen] (London: Allison & Busby, 1983).
- The Rape of Shavi (1983)
- Double Yoke (1982)
- A Kind of Marriage (London: Macmillan, 1986); Pacesetter Novels series.
- Gwendolen (1989). Published in the US as The Family
- Kehinde (1994)
- The New Tribe (2000)
- Head Above Water (1984; 1986)
Children’s/Young adults' books
- The Black Scholar, November–December 1985, p. 51.
- "Feminism with a Small 'f'!" in Kirsten H. Petersen (ed.), Criticism and Ideology: Second African Writer's Conference, Stockholm 1988, Uppsala: Scandinanvian Institute of African Studies, 1988, pp. 173–181.
- Essence magazine, August 1990, p. 50.
- New York Times Book Review, 29 April 1990.
- Publishers Weekly, 16 February 1990, p. 73; reprinted 7 February 1994, p. 84.
- World Literature Today, Autumn 1994, p. 867.
- ^ abcdBusby, Margaret, "Buchi Emecheta obituary", The Guardian, 3 February 2017.
- ^Dawson, Ashley, "Beyond Imperial Feminism: Buchi Emecheta's London Novels and Black British Women's Emancipation", in Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain, University of Michigan Press, 2007, p. 117.
- ^ abcdefghijklmnopqRay, Ed. Mohit K., ed. (2007). The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 164. ISBN 9788126908325.
- ^ abcdefRoss, Robert L., ed. (1999). Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology. Psychology Press. p. 319. ISBN 9780815314318.
- ^ abcdefgOlendorf, Donna, ed. (1991). Something about the Author (illustrated ed.). Gale Research International, Limited. p. 59. ISBN 9780810322769.
- ^ abcdefghijklSleeman, Elizabeth (2001). The International Who's Who of Women 2002 (revised ed.). Psychology Press. p. 161. ISBN 9781857431223.
- ^Onwordi, Sylvester, "Remembering my mother Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", New Statesman, 31 January 2017.
- ^A Study Guide for Buchi Emecheta's "The Joys of Motherhood". Gale Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 9781410350268.
- ^"Culture stars who died in 2017: from Doreen Keogh to Bruce Forsyth : Buchi Emecheta". The Telegraph. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- ^ abA Study Guide for Buchi Emecheta's "The Bride Price". Gale, Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 9781410342034.
- ^"Emecheta, Buchi", Biography, Postcolonial Studies @ Emory.
- ^"Buchi Emecheta Essay". eNotes.com.
- ^Jussawalla, Feroza F., Reed Way Dasenbrock, "Buchi Emecheta", Interviews with Writers of the Post-colonial World, University Press of Mississippi, 1992, p. 84.
- ^ abcdefghij"Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist, dies aged 72". The Guardian. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- ^Adeleye-Fayemi, Bisi, "LOUD WHISPERS: The First Class Citizen (Buchi Emecheta 1944-2017)", Above Whispers, 18 February 2017.
- ^Emecheta, Buchi, Head Above Water, p. 5, quoted in Stephen Jantuah Boakye, "Suspense Strategies in Buchi Emecheta’s Head Above Water", Language in India, Vol. 13:4, April 2013. ISSN 1930-2940.
- ^Contemporary Authors: Volume 126. Cengage Gale. 2004. p. 115. ISBN 9780787667184.
- ^ ab"Buchi Emecheta: Nigerian author who championed girls dies aged 72". BBC News. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- ^British Book News. National Book League. 1986.
- ^Busby, Margaret, "Buchi Emecheta", Daughters of Africa, London: Jonathan Cape, 1992, p. 656.
- ^Society and Solitude (2 ed.). University Press of America. 1997. p. 241. ISBN 9780761801290.
- ^Fraser, C. Gerald, "Writer, Her Dream Fulfilled, Seeks to Link Two Worlds", The New York Times, 2 June 1990.
- ^International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004 (revised ed.). Psychology Press. 2003. p. 162. ISBN 9781857431797.
- ^The Council of the Caine Prize for African Writing, "Tribute to Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017)", Caine Prize blog, 1 February 2017.
- ^Kean, Danuta, "Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist, dies aged 72", The Guardian, 2 January 2017,
- ^Adesanya, Femi, "Nigerian Literary Icon, Buchi Emecheta Has Died", Information Nigeria, 25 January 2017.
- ^ abcde"Buchi Emecheta 1944–", Concise Major 21st Century Writers , encyclopedia.com.
- ^Emecheta, Buchi, "Head Above Water", Granta 7: Best of Young British Novelists | Essays & Memoir, 1 March 1983.
- ^Levy, Andrea, "Made in Britain. To celebrate the impact of their different perspectives, 50 writers of Caribbean, Asian and African descent gathered to be photographed. Andrea Levy reports on a great day for literature", The Guardian, 18 September 2004.
- ^Le Gendre, Kevin, "Books: A great day for a family get together Who are the movers and shakers in black British writing? And can they all fit on one staircase?", The Independent on Sunday, 17 October 2004.
- ^Jagne, Siga Fatima, and Pushpa Naidu Parekh (eds), Buchi Emecheta biography, Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Routledge, 1998, p. 149.
- ^Onwordi, Sylvester, "Buchi Emecheta Foundation and Omenela Press created to Preserve a Legacy", KTravula.com, 20 November 2017.
- ^"Celebrating Buchi Emecheta", Royal African Society.
- ^"Celebrating Buchi Emecheta – February Event", Buchi Emecheta website.
- ^Ezeigbo, Akachi, "Celebrating Buchi Emecheta in London a year after", The Guardian (Nigeria), 11 February 2018.
- ^Umeh, Marie, ed. (1996). Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta (illustrated ed.). Africa World Press. p. xxiv. ISBN 9780865434554.
- ^Sougou, Omar (2002). Writing Across Cultures: Gender Politics and Difference in the Fiction of Buchi Emecheta. Rodopi. p. 198. ISBN 9789042012981.
- ^Jackson, Tommie Lee (2001). An Invincible Summer: Female Diasporean Authors. Africa World Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780865438231.
- ^ abMalik, Sarita, "Black TV Writers", BFI ScreenOnline.
- ^Lindfors, Bernth; Sander, Reinhard (1992). Twentieth-century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Gale Research Inc. p. 159.
Selected tributes and obituaries
- Dennis Abrams, "Comments On the Work of the Late Nigerian Novelist Buchi Emecheta", Publishing Perspectives, 30 January 2017.
- Adekeye Adebajo, "Tribute to an African woman of courage", The Guardian (Nigeria), 31 January 2017.
- Adekunle, "Tribute to a literary lioness", Vanguard (Nigeria), 17 February 2017.
- Jane Bryce, "A Sort-of Career: Remembering Buchi Emecheta", Wasafiri, 2017.
- Margaret Busby, "Buchi Emecheta obituary", The Guardian, 3 February 2017.
- Eashani Chavda, "Black British Writing: A Tribute To Buchi Emecheta", gal-dem, 18 May 2017.
- Vimbai Chinembiri, "Buchi Emecheta: How she made her writing a voice for women", Her (Zimbabwe), 28 January 2017.
- The Council of the Caine Prize for African Writing, "Tribute to Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017)", Caine Prize blog, 1 February 2017.
- William Grimes, "Buchi Emecheta, Nigerian Novelist, Dies at 72", The New York Times, 10 February 2017.
- Fred Obera, "Nigeria: Remembering Nigerian Literary Icon Buchi Emecheta", AllAfrica, 26 January 2017.
- Margaret Olele, "Of Buchi Emecheta and womankind", The Guardian (Nigeria), 14 March 2017.
- Sylvester Onwordi, "Remembering my mother Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", New Statesman, 31 January 2017. Also as "Remembering Buchi Emecheta, Nigerian novelist, feminist, my mother", African Arguments (Royal African Society), 1 February 2017.
- Niyi Osundare, "The Unintended Feminist: For Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", Sahara Reporters, 29 January 2017.
Buchi Emecheta 1944-
(Full name Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta) Nigerian novelist, children's writer, screenplay writer, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Emecheta's career through 1998. See also, Buchi Emecheta Criticism.
Among the most important female authors to emerge from postcolonial Africa, Nigerian-born Buchi Emecheta is distinguished for her vivid descriptions of female subordination and conflicting cultural values in modern Africa. Her best-known novels, including Second-Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), and The Joys of Motherhood (1979), expose the injustice of traditional, male-oriented African social customs that relegate women to a life of child-bearing, servitude, and victimization. Often regarded as a feminist writer, Emecheta illustrates the value of education and self-determination for aspiring young women who struggle against sexual discrimination, racism, and unhappy marital arrangements to achieve individuality and independence. While critical of patriarchal tribal culture, Emecheta's fiction evinces an abiding reverence for African heritage and folklore that reflects the divided loyalties of Africans torn between the competing claims of tradition and modernization. Noted for her realistic characters, conversational prose style, and sociological interest, Emecheta is highly regarded for introducing an authentic female perspective to contemporary African literature.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, and raised in the nearby village of Ibuza, Emecheta received a traditional Ibo upbringing and early witnessed tensions between indigenous African culture and urban Western values. Orphaned as a young child and raised by extended family, she attributes her desire to write to the storytelling of her aunt, “Big Mother.” Though schooling for girls was discouraged, Emecheta managed to receive an education at a missionary school, where she was taught English in addition to her several native languages. Bound by Ibo custom, she left school at age sixteen to marry a man to whom she had been engaged since she was eleven years old. Emecheta gave birth to their first child at age seventeen and by twenty-two was the mother of five. Shortly after her marriage she moved to London where her husband had already relocated to study.
While working odd jobs at the British Museum library and a youth center to support her family, Emecheta devoted herself to writing in her spare time. Despite efforts by her abusive husband to undermine her literary aspirations, Emecheta eventually published several of her diary entries in New Statesman, later becoming the material for her first book, In the Ditch (1972). Emecheta left her husband in 1966 and continued to work and write while raising her children and studying sociology at the University of London; she graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1972. While still in England she completed two additional books, Second-Class Citizen and The Bride Price, then moved to the United States where she supported herself as a social worker in Camden, New Jersey. Upon the publication of The Slave Girl (1977), a novel whose manuscript was once burned by her former husband, Emecheta received a Jock Campbell award from New Statesman and was selected as the Best Black British Writer in 1978. With the success of her 1979 novel The Joys of Motherhood, Emecheta was invited to work as a visiting professor at several American universities and as a research fellow at the University of Caliber in Nigeria before taking a permanent teaching position at the University of London in 1982. She also wrote several books for children and screenplays for British television. During the 1980s, Emecheta continued to establish her reputation with the novels Double Yoke (1982) and The Rape of Shavi (1983). She was named one of the Best British Young Writers in 1983. Her autobiography was published as Head Above Water (1984).
Emecheta's fiction focuses on the plight of African women who struggle against patriarchal family structures, unfair gender stereotypes, and contradictory social values in contemporary Africa. Her first two books, In the Ditch and Second-Class Citizen, are autobiographical accounts of her early life and marital difficulties as the fictionalized protagonist Adah. In the Ditch begins with Adah's separation from her husband and relates her demoralizing experiences while working, writing, and raising her five children on public assistance in a London tenement. Her economic privations are exacerbated by prejudice against her as an impoverished single mother and black African immigrant. Second-Class Citizen recounts Adah's childhood struggle to obtain an education in Nigeria, her emigration to England, and her determination to write despite the demands of motherhood and her tyrannical student husband who physically assaults her. Adah finally abandons her husband after he callously burns the completed manuscript of her first book, marking a defining moment in Adah's growing self-awareness and confidence. In The Bride Price Emecheta illustrates the injustice of male chauvinism and caste restrictions in her native country. Set in Lagos and Ibuza during the 1950s, the protagonist is Aku-nna, a young Nigerian girl whose father dies when she is thirteen, leaving her in the charge of her father's brother. Aku-nna manages to remain in school only because her uncle believes it will increase her bride price. However, she falls in love with her teacher, Chike, a descendant of slaves whose social status prohibits their involvement. Despite the protestations of her family and a potential suitor who kidnaps her, Aku-nna elopes with Chike and deprives her uncle of her dowry. In the end Aku-nna dies in childbirth, fulfilling the fateful superstition that a woman whose bride price is unpaid will not survive the birth of her first child.
The Slave Girl similarly depicts the limited opportunities and property status of women in Nigerian society. The female protagonist is Ojebeta, a young girl who is sold into domestic slavery by her brother after her parents die in an influenza epidemic. Stripped of her rights, Ojebeta is moved from her village to a busy town where she is converted to Christianity and taught to read and write. She is later married to a man who pays off her owner, drawing attention to the parallel institutions of slavery and marriage as Ojebeta is simply transferred from one master to another. The Joys of Motherhood describes the circumscribed existence of protagonist Nnu Ego, a dutiful Nigerian wife and mother who suffers poverty and humiliation in a traditional polygamous marriage. Rejected by her first husband for failing to produce a child, Nnu Ego subsequently marries Naife, a cruel city man she finds unattractive but resigns herself to, and eventually bears several children. Exhausted by years of servitude and domestic conflict with her co-wife, Adaku, Nnu Ego finally returns to her village alone and unappreciated for her sacrifices, reflected in the novel's ironic title. A departure from the limited domestic settings of her previous books, Destination Biafra (1982) is a sweeping historical novel about civil unrest in Nigeria during the Biafran secessionist movement of the late 1960s. The central figure is Debbie Ogedemgbe, daughter of a slain businessman who eschews passivity by joining the bloody struggle on the side of a united Nigeria. In Double Yoke Emecheta relates the disillusioning experiences of a female college student, Nko, whose personal relationships and educational goals are compromised by sexual politics on a Nigerian campus. Nko is scorned by her boyfriend for permitting premarital sex with him, then seduced by a manipulative professor with whom she becomes pregnant. The title refers to Nko's double bind as she realizes her equally degrading choice between prostitution as a traditional wife or as a liberated academic woman.
In The Rape of Shavi Emecheta presents an allegorical interpretation of European imperialism in Africa. The story relates the despoliation of the mythical Shavians, an idyllic tribe of African cattle farmers who are uncorrupted by contact with the West until a plane piloted by Englishmen crash lands among them. The white men abuse their trust, exploit their natural resources, and introduce guns and greed to their society, leaving the Shavians devastated by war, drought, and famine. Returning to the English setting of her first two books, Gwendolyn (1990) chronicles the difficult life of the title character, a young Jamaican immigrant who endures rape, incest, and racism on the way to independence. Gwendolyn flees Jamaica, where she is molested by a family friend, to live with her parents in a poor London neighborhood. At age sixteen she becomes involved in an incestuous relationship with her father, bears his child, and, after her father's suicide, tentatively reconciles with her mother and boyfriend. Kehinde (1994) involves a middle-aged Nigerian woman who relinquishes a professional career in England to return to her native land with her husband. When Kehinde arrives in Nigeria after staying behind to sell their house, she discovers that her husband has taken a second wife, reducing her to insignificance despite her status as an educated woman and senior wife. Kehinde eventually leaves her polygamous marriage, returning to England where she gains new perspective on her life.
Widely recognized as a leading female voice in contemporary African literature, Emecheta has attracted international attention for her compelling depiction of the female experience in African society and, in particular, her native Nigeria. Along with Bessie Head, Ama Ata Aidoo, and fellow Nigerian Flora Nwapa, Emecheta is credited with establishing an important female presence in the previously male-dominated literature of modern Africa. Commenting of Emecheta's contribution, Eustace Palmer writes, “Scarcely any other African novelist has succeeded in probing the female mind and displaying the female personality with such precision.” Though often classified as a feminist writer, Emecheta differentiates her own Afrocentric perspective from that of her Western counterparts by describing herself as “an African feminist with a small f.” Critics commend Emecheta's impressive narrative abilities, psychologically complex female protagonists, and powerful social critique of traditional African culture that, as reviewers note, is largely unencumbered by ideology or polemics. While The Joys of Motherhood is considered Emecheta's most accomplished work, she has won critical approval for Second-Class Citizen, The Bride Price, and Double Yoke. However, her attempts to depart from the highly personal subjects of these works in novels such as Destination Biafra and The Rape of Shavi have received mixed assessment. Some reviewers also find fault in uneven and occasionally repetitious elements of her fiction. Despite such criticisms, Emecheta is consistently praised for her engaging, compassionate rendering of African women, motherhood, and the impact of Westernization in postcolonial Nigeria.