Buchi Emecheta

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Buchi Emecheta was a Nigerian author who focused on the conditions of women. 

First name: 
Buchi
Last name: 
Emecheta
Date of birth: 
21 July 1944
Location of birth: 
Lagos, Nigeria
Date of death: 
25 January 2017
Location of death: 
London, United Kingdom

Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta Obe ‘Buchi Emecheta’ was born in the Nigerian city of Lagos on 21 July in 1944 to Jeremy Nwabudinke, a railway worker and Alice (nee Okwuekwuhe).  Her Igbo parents were from the town of Ibusa, where she spent most of her childhood. The family was very poor and the mother did not have a formal education. The family only had enough money to send her brother to school. Her father passed away when she was eight years old but Emecheta was discovered by a benefactor who saw her potential and she was given the opportunity to study rather than sell fruit in the market. In 1954 she won a scholarship to the well known Methodist girls high school in Yaba, Lagos. A year later, her mother died and she then moved between relatives and the Ibusa community in Lagos.

At the age of eleven Emecheta was engaged to marry Sylvester Onwordi and five years later they married. In 1960 Onwordi moved to Britain to study at university and in 1962 she joined him there with their two children. By 1965 the couple had five children, however, the volatile marriage left her feeling unhappy and by the time she was twenty two years old they were separated. One of the first works that Emecheta wrote was burned by her ex husband and was rewrtitten by her in its entirety after their separation. The book, entitled The Bride Price, was eventually published in 1974 following her first two books, In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974). After leaving her husband she worked as a librarian to support her family and in 1970, she enrolled at the University of London and worked towards a degree in Sociology. During this time Emecheta also worked as a community worker in North London.  Much like the feminist writers who preceded her, Emecheta's work focused on the politics of race, gender and sex based largely on her personal experiences.

Her debut novel, In the Ditch, was originally published as a series of articles in the magazine The New Statesman. This novel, alongside her second novel, Second-Class Citizen, offers a view into the life of a poor Nigerian woman struggling to fit into the community in one of Europe’s biggest cities.

Her subsequent works depict accounts of women’s experiences in female child-rearing, while facing numerous obstacles which include the changing values of traditional societies. Emecheta is also the author of several novels for children, including Nowhere to Play (1980) and The Moonlight Bride (1980). She has also published a volume of autobiographical tales, Head Above Water (1986). Her television play, A Kind of Marriage, was first screened by the BBC in 1976.

In the late 1970s she was a visiting professor at several universities in the United States and in 1979 she received the prestigious New Statesman Jock Campbell Award for Commonwealth Writers. She returned to Nigeria in 1980 to work as a visiting Professor of English at the University of Calabar. Following this she ran Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company alongside her son and had branches in London and Ibuza. She remained a literary contributor to many leading magazines including New Statesman, The Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian.

In 2010 a stroke hindered her mobility and her writing, and she became progressively ill. She died on 25 January 2017 in London. 

Last updated : 10-Feb-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 06-Feb-2017