Buchi Emecheta – Five books in trib­ute

Sunday Trust - - ART & IDEAS -

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

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