AN UNSUNG HERO; ONYEBUCHI EMECHETA
I love and admire this woman. Why? Because she has fought through several odds, struggles of life, loneliness, poverty, rejection, discrimination, gender abuse and so on. Yet, she came out of it all a very strong and successful woman. She is on the number one list in my hall of fame. Her books help to know the struggles of being both an African woman and a Nigerian mother. Her resilience and strength of character has forged me ahead and when i almost gave up on my abilities, her autobiography, HEAD ABOVE WATER helped me to make new decisions. I got encouraged to continue writing when I read her story because i discovered it could earn me a place in the world just like her. Her enviable record and giant strides are boldly printed on the sands of time.
I love to write, i am happy when i write, it gives me great joy just to write and i am humbled by the fact that several writers ahead of me are ruling the world with the strength of their pen because the pen is mightier than the sword. How i love Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa, Ngugi Wa T’hiongo all of the African Writers Series. I was privileged to read their books in primary and secondary school. Not also neglecting my favourite foreign author, ENID BLYTON [the secret seven, the adventurous four etc]. Those books thrilled me to no end. My favourite xtian authors Francine Rivers [i can’t forget her book REDEEMING LOVE] and Karen Kingsbury are also great fiction writers having won several awards in the United States.
Someone said if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book. It is very likely that a black man would never find out. A lot of talent shows in Nigeria about music, dancing and the likes are ongoing but none about reading. Our libraries are poorly stocked with outdated books.
‘Buchi Emecheta’s JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD talks about the pain of the African woman, her hope in her children, her struggles and sacrifices and how a mother is let down by the child. How i love this book. I have read it twice in my life [secondary school and after university]. I have read four of her books viz head above water, joys of motherhood, the slave girl, in the ditch.
Dr. Buchi Emecheta (born 21 July, 1944, in Nigeria) is an African novelist who has published over 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 have 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.”
(Florence Onye) Buchi Emecheta was born on 21 July 1944, in Lagos to Igbo parents, Alice (Okwuekwuhe) Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudinke. 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 sixteen when she married Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was eleven years old.
Onwordi immediately moved to London to attend university and Emecheta joined him in 1962. She gave birth to five children in six years. She had two children in Nigeria before she left and got pregnant the third time. When it was time to give birth, her husband did not follow her to the hospital so she went on her own and had her baby. On the day she was to leave the hospital, she called her husband to come pick her but he didn’t pick the call. So she called a cab and went home with her new born baby. On getting to the apartment she rented with her money, she met her husband in bed with a white woman, their next door neighbour. She bursted into tears. 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. Too bad. At the age of twenty-two, Emecheta left her husband and moved to her own apartment. He found out where she was staying and came to demand his conjugal right forcefully. He raped her. The birth of her fifth child was actually a rape. He refused to pay child support, she took him to court while she was heavily pregnant the fifth time and he denied paternity of the children. The London Court set him free. While working to support her five children alone, she earned a BSc degree in Sociology at the University of London.
In the Ditch, published in 1972, tells the story of Emecheta’s life after she leaves her husband and is living on her own with her children in a poor ghetto area. She supports her children by working in a library at the British Museum. In the Ditch chronicles Emecheta’s life in the personage of the main character, Adah. Adah is forced to live in an housing estate set aside for problem families. This estate is known as Pussy Cat Mansions and it is a place filled with women. Adah can not identify with the women of Pussy Cat Mansions and her dignity is wounded because of the charity she is forced to accept. The main focus of the novel is on the importance of initiative and determination, for these are the only tools which help Adah get out to the ditch.
In Emecheta’s second novel, Second Class Citizen, Adah is being denied a Western education because she is a girl. This novel again characterizes Adah as having the initiative and determination to get what she wants – the Western education being denied to her. The basic theme of Second Class Citizen is one of vehement animosity at the gender discrimination that is often found in the culture of her people. Adah is also encumbered because of the gender discrimination that is the foundation of her marriage. Her husband, Francis, treats her as property. Adah is forced to support the family and is responsible for the children. In the meanwhile, Francis goes to school, studies, and continuously fails exams. Adah is in constant battle to try to preserve her womanhood, and when she finally leaves Francis she experiences a strong sense of relief. After leaving Francis, Adah has moments of loneliness and despair but in the end she comes out triumphant because of her willpower.
One of Emecheta’s finest novels, The Joys of Motherhood, is set in a time of great political and economic change for Nigeria. It is in this novel that Emecheta’s main character defines validity of her womanhood solely by the success of her children. The chapter titles, “The Mother,” “The Mother’s Mother,” “The Mother’s Early Life,” “First Shock of Motherhood,” etc., follow the highs and lows of the heroine, Nnu Ego’s, destiny. Nnu Ego’s whole destiny is centered around her as a mother. Nnu Ego places all her hope for happiness and prosperity in her children, yet she is constantly disappointed. As a result, Nnu Ego finds no joy in her grown children.
Emecheta’s 1986 novel, Head Above Water, continues to describe her struggle to raise her family all alone. Adah finds jobs to support her family, gains a degree in sociology, and still manages to find time to write. Head Above Water looks at the social conditions of blacks in London and it shows Emecheta’s progression as a novelist. The novel ends with two monumental accomplishments – the purchase of her own house and her becoming a full-time writer.
The Bride Price, 1976
The Slave Girl, 1977
Titch the Cat, 1979
Nowhere to Play, 1980
The Moonlight Bride, 1980
The Wrestling Match, 1980
On Our Freedom, 1981
Destination Biafra, 1982
Naira Power, 1982
Double Yoke, 1982
The Rape of Shavi, 1983
Adah’s Story, 1983
A Kind of Marriage, 1986
Family Bargain, 1987
You can be whatever you want to be if you set your mind to it. You have no excuse not to make it in life. This is a story of hope, tenacity, resilience, hardwork and faith in God. Whatever you have in your hand, therein lies your seed [of greatness], water it, watch it germinate and let it blossom. It will earn you a place in the hall of fame. Buchi still lives in abroad, she has travelled far and wide.
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 was a community worker.
Following her success as an author, Buchi Emecheta has travelled widely as a visiting professor and lecturer. From 1972 to 1979 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. In 1982 she lectured at Yale University, and the University of London, as well as holding a fellowship at the University of London in 1986.
From 1982 to 1983 Buchi Emecheta, together with her journalist son Sylvester, ran the Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company.
B.Sc. (Honours), University of London, 1972.
New Statesman Jock Campbell Award for The Slave Girl, 1979.
British Home Secretary’s Advisory Council on Race, 1979.
Arts Council of Great Britain – 1982-3.
One of Granta’s “Best of the Young British Novelists”, 1983.
PhD, University of London, 1991.
Who’s Who in Anioma, 2011
Who’s Who in Ibusa, 2011
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Hugs n kisses
Olasiyan Olanike Yetunde
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