Buchi Emecheta: Women and girls champion passes on
Famous novelist and literary icon, Buchi Emecheta has died. Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta was a Nigerian novelist, based in Britain since 1960. Her themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence and freedom through education won her considerable critical acclaim and honours, including an Order of the British Empire in 2005.
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’’.
Emecheta’s books were on the national curricula of several African countries.
She was known for championing women and girls in her writing, though famously rejected description as a feminist.
“I work toward the liberation of women but I’m not feminist. I’m just a woman,” she said.
The topics she covered in her writing included child marriage, life as a single mother, abuse of women and racism in the UK and elsewhere.
“Black women all over the world should re-unite and re-examine the way history has portrayed us,” she said.
According to bbc.com, Lagos-born Emecheta had moved to the UK in 1960, working as a librarian and becoming a student at London University, where she read sociology. She later worked as a community worker in London for several years.
She left her husband when he refused to read her first novel and burnt the manuscript.
The book, In the Ditch, was eventually published in 1972. That and Second-Class Citizen, which followed in 1974, were fictionalised portraits of a young Nigerian woman struggling to bring up children in London.
Later, she wrote about civil conflict in Nigeria and the experience of motherhood in a changing Ibo society.
An assessment of her writing, published by the British Council, says: “The female protagonists of Emecheta’s fiction challenge the masculinist assumption that they should be defined as domestic properties whose value resides in their ability to bear children and in their willingness to remain confined at home.”
“Initiative and determination become the distinguishing marks of Emecheta’s women. They are resourceful and turn adverse conditions into their triumph.”
Emecheta was born on 21 July 1944, in Lagos Nigeria, to Igbo parents, Alice (Okwuekwuhe) Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudinke, both parents hail from Ibusa, Delta State, Nigeria. Her father was a railway worker in the 1940s.
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. Her father died when she was nine years old.
A year later, Emecheta received a full scholarship to the 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.
Onwordi immediately moved to London, UK, to attend university and Emecheta joined him. She gave birth to five children in six years. 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 has 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, Emecheta left her husband. While working to support her five children alone, she earned a BSc degree in Sociology at the University of London.
Among honours received during her literary career, Emecheta won the Jock Campbell Award from the New Statesman in 1979, and was on Granta magazine’s 1983 list of “Best of the Young British Novelists”. In September 2004, she appeared in the historic “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 Order of the British Empire, OBE.
Buchi Emecheta died in London on 25 January 2017, aged 72. Her novels… In the Ditch, The Slave Girl, The joys of Motherhood, Second-Class Citizen, A kind of Marriage and so on impacted the lives of Nigerian women and still keeps her literary legacy alive. May her soul rest in peace.
Source: Wikipedia and www.bbc.com