Buchi Emecheta – Five books in tribute
News of the passing of Buchi Emecheta came like a thief in the night last week. Because she has always been in our literary consciousness, still active in the literary field, we did not even see the clock ticking. In addition, science and technology have provided the impetus for long life and healthy lifestyles that 72 years did not seem so old. More than anything else, it is her literary work and themes that led to her characterisation as “the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948”. Born Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta Obe on the 21st of July 1944, her themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence and freedom through education won her considerable critical acclaim 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.” Enduring an unhappy and sometimes violent marriage in London in the 60s as a young bride of 16, Emecheta kept her sanity by going to her storytelling skills and writing. The manuscript of her second book written before her first book was burnt by her husband. Buchi eventually left her husband at age 22 after having five children. But it is Buchi’s writing that gained her recognition/fame and critical acclaim. Although referred to as a Nigerian born British novelist, those of us who are female writers consider her our forebear and a great inspiration. Buchi’s life is aside from her early years of pain, admirable and she achieved so much through handwork, focus and determination. Her notable books include Second Class citizen, The Bride price, The Joys of Motherhood. Buchi Emecheta was all a writer could possibly be, a columnist for the New statesman of London, an author, a writer, a Librarian and an academic. Gaining a BSc degree in Sociology from the University of London, she was also a youth worker and sociologist for the Inner London Authority and was also a community worker in Camden North London. 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, 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. In 1982 she lectured at Yale University, and the University of London. She became a Fellow at the University of London in 1986. Buchi Emecheta has been honoured with many awards including; New Statesman Jock Campbell Award for The Slave Girl, 1978, One of Grantas “Best of the Young British Novelists”, 1983 and Order of the British Empire, 2005. She was awarded a PhD by the University of London in 1991. She also wrote plays and children’s/young adults’ books. Buchi Emecheta Adieu. These five books are in your honour.
1) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: For all those who ever wrote after Buchi Emecheta, her legacy is our inheritance. She set the pace. For all those who are concerned about immigration, racism, discrimination on the basis of gender, race and religion, Buchi already gave a template. For all those who have walked the path and written about it, Buchi is our meteorite. For the community of female Nigerian writers, Buchi set herself apart. Americanah by Chimamanda is certainly one of Buchi’s children. A book on race, otherness, migrants and Nigeria. Americanah is a worthy tribute.
2) Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta: This is Buchi’s phenomenal book on the story of a resourceful Nigerian woman who overcomes strict tribal domination of women and countless setbacks to achieve an independent life for herself and her children. A near autobiographical book. This is Buchi’s first book.
3) EFURU by Flora Nwapa: Flora Nwapa Nigeria’s first female publisher/ author. Her book Efuru was celebrated by her foundation and her children last year. 50 years of Efuru was an incredible journey. The book is about Efuru, an Igbo woman who lives in a small village in colonial West Africa. Throughout the story, Efuru wishes to be a mother, though she is an independent-minded woman and respected for her trading ability. The book is rich in portrayals of the Igbo culture and of different scenarios which have led to its current status as a feminist and cultural work. The book itself is a testimony to part of Buchi’s legacy and sisterhood with Flora Nwapa and herself blazing the trail for the rest of us.
4) Invisible Borders by Zaynab Alkali: Professor Zaynab Alkali; professor of African literature and creative writing and first female author from the North has written another of her beguiling novels, Invisible borders. This is the story of first loves who were destined to be married. Safia and Sam reunite after being separated for a number of years. However, will their love surmount daunting obstacles measured against them? Narrated in Safia’s thoughts, this novel questions the futility of life in death. It depicts true friendship, love, sacrifice and betrayal. Her published titles include Stillborn, The virtuous woman, Cobwebs and other stories, The Descendants and The Initiates. Professor Alkali’s continuous plying of her trade is a fitting tribute to Buchi Emecheta’s literary prowess.
5) Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta: This is a book every woman must read. How to survive, how to keep one’s head above water in the middle of a storm. The quote from the book captures all the essence “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 the fifth one - that is a miracle. And if for any reason you do not believe in miracles, please start believing, because keeping my head above water in this indifferent society...is a miracle.” Buchi Emecheta’s autobiography spans the transition from a tribal childhood in the African bush to life in North London as an internationally acclaimed writer. Shows us all the strength of a woman
a) All Nigerian female writers wherever they are b) Sefi Atta’s A Bit Of Difference c) Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come To You By Chance