Buchi Emecheta, a British-based Nigerian writer who, in “Second-Class Citizen,” “The Joys of Motherhood” and other novels, gave voice to African women struggling to reconcile traditional roles with the demands of modernity, died on Jan. 25 at her home in London. She was 72.
The cause was dementia, her son Sylvester Onwordi wrote in the British magazine New Statesman.
Ms. Emecheta (pronounced BOO-chee em-EH-cheh-tah) came to the attention of British readers in the early 1970s when New Statesman began running her accounts of the travails of a young Nigerian woman in London. Adah, a thinly disguised version of the author, lived in a dreary apartment, worked menial jobs to support her young children and abusive husband, studied at night and weathered the slights meted out by a racist society. Buoyed by ambition and pluck, she remained undaunted.
“In the Ditch,” a novel based on those columns, appeared in 1972.
With the publication two years later of a second Adah novel, “Second-Class Citizen,” critics in Britain and the United States hailed the arrival of an important new African writer. Like her immediate predecessor Flora Nwapa, Ms. Emecheta revealed the thoughts and aspirations of her countrywomen, shaped by a patriarchal culture but stirred by the modern promise of freedom and self-definition.
“Scarcely any other African novelist has succeeded in probing the female mind and displaying the female personality with such precision,” the Sierra Leonean scholar Eustace Palmer wrote in African Literature Today in 1983.
In several novels set in Nigeria, including “The Bride Price” (1976), “The Slave Girl” (1977), “The Joys of Motherhood” (1979) and “Double Yoke” (1983), Ms. Emecheta dramatized, in often harrowing detail, the dire poverty and tight web of family obligations that thwarted aspiring women, their worth determined by the number of sons they could bear.
Against long odds, they fought.
“Emecheta’s women do not simply lie down and die,” The Voice Literary Supplement wrote in 1982. “Always there is resistance, a challenge to fate, a need to renegotiate the terms of the uneasy peace that exists between them and accepted traditions.”
She was born Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta on July 21, 1944, in Yaba, near Lagos, to Jeremy Nwabudinke and Alice Okwuekwuhe. When she was 9, her father, a railway worker, died of complications of combat wounds he had suffered in Burma during World War II.
After being kept at home while her younger brother went to school, in accordance with tradition, Florence won a scholarship to Methodist Girls’ High School at 10. Her mother died a year later, and she was passed from one distant relative to another in Lagos while she attended school. One day she was beaten in front of her class when she announced that she wanted to be a writer.
It was a cherished dream, born when she visited the family’s ancestral village, Ibuza, and listened to a blind aunt telling stories about their people, the Ibo.
“I thought to myself, ‘No life could be more important than this,’” Ms. Emecheta told The Voice Literary Supplement. “So when people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I told them I wanted to be a storyteller — which is what I’m doing now.”
At 16 she married Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was 11. When he went to Britain to study accounting she followed, with their two children in tow. Three more children would follow in rapid succession.
Mr. Onwordi, a failure at school, took out his frustrations on his young wife, whose early attempts to write he regarded with suspicion. When asked to read the manuscript of her first novel, “The Bride Price,” he burned it. After painstaking reconstruction, it was published after her Adah novels.
Much to her husband’s astonishment, Ms. Emecheta left the marriage and, from 1965 to 1969, worked as a library officer at the British Museum. Aided by a government grant, she studied nights at the University of London while working as a youth counselor for the Inner London Education Authority. She received a sociology degree in 1972.
As her novels attracted critical attention, Ms. Emecheta began lecturing at universities in the United States. In Nigeria, she was a visiting professor of English at the University of Calabar in 1980 and 1981.
“Destination Biafra” (1982), an ambitious novel dealing with Biafra’s bid to create a separate state from the newly independent Nigeria, was poorly reviewed, leading to a break with her publisher, Allison & Busby.
Ms. Emecheta said that editors had cut a large section of the book without her permission. It was based on research she had carried out surreptitiously after taking a job as a cleaning woman at Sandhurst, the royal military academy, for that purpose. She and her son Sylvester started their own press, the Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company, whose first title was “Double Yoke,” in 1983.
That year she received a publicity coup when the literary journal Granta listed her among the 20 best young British novelists, placing her alongside such rising stars as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.
Ms. Emecheta took an experimental leap with the postcolonial fantasy “The Rape of Shavi” (1984), about an airplane carrying Western passengers that crashes in a mythical sub-Saharan country. Once repaired, the plane returns to Europe, carrying with it the king’s son. Disaster ensues.
With “Gwendolen” (1989), published in the United States as “The Family,” Ms. Emecheta returned to more familiar fictional territory, telling the story of a Jamaican girl sexually abused in Jamaica by her uncle and in England by her father, whose child she bears.
Through the female protagonist of “Kehinde” (1994) and the male protagonist of “The New Tribe,” Ms. Emecheta explored the predicament of Nigerians with their feet in two cultures.
“My books are about survival, just like my own life,” she told the Nigerian magazine The Voice in 1996.
Ms. Emecheta, who received the Order of the British Empire in 2005, wrote a memoir, “Head Above Water” (1986), and several books for children, including “Tich the Cat” (1979) and “The Moonlight Bride” (1981).
In addition to her son Sylvester, survivors include another son, Jake Onwordi, and a daughter, Alice Emecheta.
“Apart from telling stories, I don’t have a particular mission,” Ms. Emecheta once said. “I like to tell the world our part of the story while using the voices of women.”
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Buchi Emecheta, Nigerian Novelist, Is Dead at 72. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
Florence Onyebuchi "Buchi" EmechetaOBE (21 July 1944 – 25 January 2017) was a Nigerian-born British novelist, based in the UK from 1962, who also wrote plays and autobiography, as well as work for children. She was the author of more than 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 gained recognition from critics 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." She has been characterised as "the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948".
Early life and education
Emecheta was born on 21 July 1944, in Lagos, Nigeria, to Igbo parents, Alice (Okwuekwuhe) Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudinke. Her father was a railway worker and moulder. 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. When she was nine years old her father died ("of complications brought on by a wound contracted in the swamps of Burma, where he had been conscripted to fight for Lord Louis Mountbatten and the remnants of the British Empire"). A year later, Emecheta received a full scholarship to 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. Later that year, she gave birth to a daughter, and in 1961 their elder son was born.
Onwordi immediately moved to London to attend university and Emecheta joined him there with their first two children in 1962. She would give birth to five children in six years, three daughters and two sons 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 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, pregnant with her fifth child, Emecheta left her husband. While working to support her children alone, she earned a BSc (Hons) degree in Sociology in 1972 from the University of London. In her 1984 autobiography Head Above Water she wrote: "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 a fifth one—that is a miracle." She went on later to gain her PhD from the university in 1991.
She began writing about her experiences of Black British life in a regular column in the New Statesman, and a collection of these pieces became her first published book in 1972, In the Ditch. The semi-autobiographical novel chronicled the struggles of a main character named Adah, who is forced to live in a housing estate while working as a librarian to support her five children. Her second novel published two years later, Second-Class Citizen (Allison and Busby, 1974), also drew on Emecheta's own experiences, and both books were eventually published in one volume by Allison and Busby under the title Adah's Story (1983).
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 worked as a community worker in Camden, North London, meanwhile continuing to produce further novels with Allison and Busby – The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977), The Joys of Motherhood (1979) and Destination Biafra (1982) – as well as the children's books Titch the Cat (1979) and Nowhere To Play (1980).
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 at the 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, beginning with Double Yoke (1982). Emecheta received an Arts Council of Great Britain bursary, 1982–83, and was one of Granta′s "Best of the Young British Novelists" in 1983. In 1982 she lectured at Yale University, and the University of London, She became a Fellow at the University of London in 1986.
Over the years she worked with many cultural and literary organizations, including the Africa Centre, London, and with the Caine Prize for African Writing as a member of the Advisory Council.
Buchi Emecheta suffered a stroke in 2010, and she died in London on 25 January 2017, aged 72.
Awards and recognition
Among honours received during her literary career, Emecheta won the Jock Campbell Award from the New Statesman in 1978 for her novel The Slave Girl, and she was on Granta magazine's 1983 list of 20 "Best of Young British Novelists". She was a member of the British Home Secretary's Advisory Council on Race in 1979.
In September 2004, she appeared in the "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 OBE for services to literature.
She received an Honorary doctorate of literature from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1992.
In 2017, Emecheta's son Sylvester Onwordi announced the formation of The Buchi Emecheta Foundation - a charitable organisation promoting literary and educational projects in the UK and in Africa – which was launched in London on 3 February 2018 at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, together with new editions of several of her books published by Onwordi through his Omenala Press. Among participants in the celebration – "a gathering of writers, critics, artists, publishers, literature enthusiasts and culture activists from all over the world, including London and other parts of the U.K., France, Germany, U.S., Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and the Caribbean" – were Leila Aboulela, Carole Boyce Davies, Margaret Busby, James Currey, Louisa Uchum Egbunike, Ernest Emenyonu, Akachi Ezeigbo, Kadija George, Mpalive Msiska, Grace Nichols, Alastair Niven, Irenosen Okojie, Veronique Tadjo, Marie Linton Umeh, Wangui wa Goro, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and others.
- In the Ditch (1972)
- Second-Class Citizen (1974)
- The Bride Price (1976)
- The Slave Girl (1977); winner of 1978 Jock Campbell Award
- The Joys of Motherhood (1979)
- The Moonlight Bride (1981)
- Our Own Freedom (with photographs by Maggie Murray; 1981)
- Destination Biafra (1982)
- Naira Power (1982)
- Adah's Story [In the Ditch/Second-Class Citizen] (London: Allison & Busby, 1983).
- The Rape of Shavi (1983)
- Double Yoke (1982)
- A Kind of Marriage (London: Macmillan, 1986); Pacesetter Novels series.
- Gwendolen (1989). Published in the US as The Family
- Kehinde (1994)
- The New Tribe (2000)
- Head Above Water (1984; 1986)
Children’s/Young adults' books
- The Black Scholar, November–December 1985, p. 51.
- "Feminism with a Small 'f'!" in Kirsten H. Petersen (ed.), Criticism and Ideology: Second African Writer's Conference, Stockholm 1988, Uppsala: Scandinanvian Institute of African Studies, 1988, pp. 173–181.
- Essence magazine, August 1990, p. 50.
- New York Times Book Review, 29 April 1990.
- Publishers Weekly, 16 February 1990, p. 73; reprinted 7 February 1994, p. 84.
- World Literature Today, Autumn 1994, p. 867.
- ^ abcdBusby, Margaret, "Buchi Emecheta obituary", The Guardian, 3 February 2017.
- ^Dawson, Ashley, "Beyond Imperial Feminism: Buchi Emecheta's London Novels and Black British Women's Emancipation", in Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain, University of Michigan Press, 2007, p. 117.
- ^ abcdefghijklmnopqRay, Ed. Mohit K., ed. (2007). The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 164. ISBN 9788126908325.
- ^ abcdefRoss, Robert L., ed. (1999). Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology. Psychology Press. p. 319. ISBN 9780815314318.
- ^ abcdefgOlendorf, Donna, ed. (1991). Something about the Author (illustrated ed.). Gale Research International, Limited. p. 59. ISBN 9780810322769.
- ^ abcdefghijklSleeman, Elizabeth (2001). The International Who's Who of Women 2002 (revised ed.). Psychology Press. p. 161. ISBN 9781857431223.
- ^Onwordi, Sylvester, "Remembering my mother Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", New Statesman, 31 January 2017.
- ^A Study Guide for Buchi Emecheta's "The Joys of Motherhood". Gale Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 9781410350268.
- ^"Culture stars who died in 2017: from Doreen Keogh to Bruce Forsyth : Buchi Emecheta". The Telegraph. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- ^ abA Study Guide for Buchi Emecheta's "The Bride Price". Gale, Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 9781410342034.
- ^"Emecheta, Buchi", Biography, Postcolonial Studies @ Emory.
- ^"Buchi Emecheta Essay". eNotes.com.
- ^Jussawalla, Feroza F., Reed Way Dasenbrock, "Buchi Emecheta", Interviews with Writers of the Post-colonial World, University Press of Mississippi, 1992, p. 84.
- ^ abcdefghij"Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist, dies aged 72". The Guardian. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- ^Adeleye-Fayemi, Bisi, "LOUD WHISPERS: The First Class Citizen (Buchi Emecheta 1944-2017)", Above Whispers, 18 February 2017.
- ^Emecheta, Buchi, Head Above Water, p. 5, quoted in Stephen Jantuah Boakye, "Suspense Strategies in Buchi Emecheta’s Head Above Water", Language in India, Vol. 13:4, April 2013. ISSN 1930-2940.
- ^Contemporary Authors: Volume 126. Cengage Gale. 2004. p. 115. ISBN 9780787667184.
- ^ ab"Buchi Emecheta: Nigerian author who championed girls dies aged 72". BBC News. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
- ^British Book News. National Book League. 1986.
- ^Busby, Margaret, "Buchi Emecheta", Daughters of Africa, London: Jonathan Cape, 1992, p. 656.
- ^Society and Solitude (2 ed.). University Press of America. 1997. p. 241. ISBN 9780761801290.
- ^Fraser, C. Gerald, "Writer, Her Dream Fulfilled, Seeks to Link Two Worlds", The New York Times, 2 June 1990.
- ^International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004 (revised ed.). Psychology Press. 2003. p. 162. ISBN 9781857431797.
- ^The Council of the Caine Prize for African Writing, "Tribute to Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017)", Caine Prize blog, 1 February 2017.
- ^Kean, Danuta, "Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist, dies aged 72", The Guardian, 2 January 2017,
- ^Adesanya, Femi, "Nigerian Literary Icon, Buchi Emecheta Has Died", Information Nigeria, 25 January 2017.
- ^ abcde"Buchi Emecheta 1944–", Concise Major 21st Century Writers , encyclopedia.com.
- ^Emecheta, Buchi, "Head Above Water", Granta 7: Best of Young British Novelists | Essays & Memoir, 1 March 1983.
- ^Levy, Andrea, "Made in Britain. To celebrate the impact of their different perspectives, 50 writers of Caribbean, Asian and African descent gathered to be photographed. Andrea Levy reports on a great day for literature", The Guardian, 18 September 2004.
- ^Le Gendre, Kevin, "Books: A great day for a family get together Who are the movers and shakers in black British writing? And can they all fit on one staircase?", The Independent on Sunday, 17 October 2004.
- ^Jagne, Siga Fatima, and Pushpa Naidu Parekh (eds), Buchi Emecheta biography, Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Routledge, 1998, p. 149.
- ^Onwordi, Sylvester, "Buchi Emecheta Foundation and Omenela Press created to Preserve a Legacy", KTravula.com, 20 November 2017.
- ^"Celebrating Buchi Emecheta", Royal African Society.
- ^"Celebrating Buchi Emecheta – February Event", Buchi Emecheta website.
- ^Ezeigbo, Akachi, "Celebrating Buchi Emecheta in London a year after", The Guardian (Nigeria), 11 February 2018.
- ^Umeh, Marie, ed. (1996). Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta (illustrated ed.). Africa World Press. p. xxiv. ISBN 9780865434554.
- ^Sougou, Omar (2002). Writing Across Cultures: Gender Politics and Difference in the Fiction of Buchi Emecheta. Rodopi. p. 198. ISBN 9789042012981.
- ^Jackson, Tommie Lee (2001). An Invincible Summer: Female Diasporean Authors. Africa World Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780865438231.
- ^ abMalik, Sarita, "Black TV Writers", BFI ScreenOnline.
- ^Lindfors, Bernth; Sander, Reinhard (1992). Twentieth-century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Gale Research Inc. p. 159.
Selected tributes and obituaries
- Dennis Abrams, "Comments On the Work of the Late Nigerian Novelist Buchi Emecheta", Publishing Perspectives, 30 January 2017.
- Adekeye Adebajo, "Tribute to an African woman of courage", The Guardian (Nigeria), 31 January 2017.
- Adekunle, "Tribute to a literary lioness", Vanguard (Nigeria), 17 February 2017.
- Jane Bryce, "A Sort-of Career: Remembering Buchi Emecheta", Wasafiri, 2017.
- Margaret Busby, "Buchi Emecheta obituary", The Guardian, 3 February 2017.
- Eashani Chavda, "Black British Writing: A Tribute To Buchi Emecheta", gal-dem, 18 May 2017.
- Vimbai Chinembiri, "Buchi Emecheta: How she made her writing a voice for women", Her (Zimbabwe), 28 January 2017.
- The Council of the Caine Prize for African Writing, "Tribute to Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017)", Caine Prize blog, 1 February 2017.
- William Grimes, "Buchi Emecheta, Nigerian Novelist, Dies at 72", The New York Times, 10 February 2017.
- Fred Obera, "Nigeria: Remembering Nigerian Literary Icon Buchi Emecheta", AllAfrica, 26 January 2017.
- Margaret Olele, "Of Buchi Emecheta and womankind", The Guardian (Nigeria), 14 March 2017.
- Sylvester Onwordi, "Remembering my mother Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", New Statesman, 31 January 2017. Also as "Remembering Buchi Emecheta, Nigerian novelist, feminist, my mother", African Arguments (Royal African Society), 1 February 2017.
- Niyi Osundare, "The Unintended Feminist: For Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", Sahara Reporters, 29 January 2017.