Buchi Emecheta

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Buchi Emecheta
BornFlorence Onyebuchi Emecheta
21 July 1944
Lagos, Nigeria
Died25 January 2017(2017-01-25) (aged 72)
London, England
Notable workSecond-Class Citizen
The Bride Price
The Joys of Motherhood

Florence Onyebuchi "Buchi" Emecheta OBE (21 July 1944 – 25 January 2017) was a Nigerian-born British novelist, based in the UK from 1962,[1] 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 characterized as "the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948".[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Emecheta was born on 21 July 1944, in Lagos, Nigeria, to Igbo parents,[3][4] Alice (Okwuekwuhe) Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudinke.[5][6] Her father was a railway worker and moulder.[5] 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").[7][8] 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,[4][6] a student to whom she had been engaged since she was 11 years old.[9][10] Later that year, she gave birth to a daughter, and in 1961 their youger son was born.[1]

Onwordi immediately moved to London to attend university and Emecheta joined him there with their first two children in 1962.[1] She gave birth to five children in six years, three daughters and two sons[10] It was an unhappy and sometimes violent marriage (as chronicled in her autobiographical writings such as Second-Class Citizen).[11][1] 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;[12] she said that in The Bride Price, eventually published in 1976. That would have been her first book but she had to rewrite it after it was destroyed: "There were five years between the two versions."[13] At the age of 22, pregnant with her fifth child, Emecheta left her husband.[14][15] While working to support her children alone, she earned a B.Sc (Hons) degree in Sociology in 1972 from the University of London.[4][14][5] 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."[16] She went on later to gain her PhD from the university in 1991.[17]


She began writing about her experiences of Black British life in a regular column in the New Statesman,[14] and a collection of these pieces became her first published book in 1972, In the Ditch.[14][4] The semi-autobiographical novel[3] 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.[4] Her second novel published two years later, Second-Class Citizen (Allison and Busby, 1974),[18] 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).[19]

From 1965 to 1969, Emecheta worked as a library officer for the British Museum in London.[5] From 1969 to 1976 she was a youth worker and sociologist for the Inner London Education Authority,[5][20] and from 1976 to 1978 she worked as a community worker in Camden, North London,[3][5] 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.[5][21] From 1980 to 1981, she was senior resident fellow and visiting professor of English at the University of Calabar, Nigeria.[6] From 1982 to 1983 Emecheta, together with her son Sylvester, ran the Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company, publishing her own work under the imprint,[14] beginning with Double Yoke (1982).[22] Emecheta received an Arts Council of Great Britain bursary, 1982–83,[3][6] and was one of Granta′s "Best of the Young British Novelists" in 1983.[14] In 1982 she lectured at Yale University, and the University of London,[6] She became a Fellow at the University of London in 1986.[23]

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.[24]

Buchi Emecheta suffered a stroke in 2010,[25][14] and she died in London on 25 January 2017, aged 72.[26][14][18]

Most of her fictional works are focused on sexual discrimination and racial prejudice informed by her own experiences as both a single parent and a black woman living in United Kingdom.[27]

Awards and recognition[edit]

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,[3][28] and she was on Granta magazine's 1983 list of 20 "Best of Young British Novelists".[28][14][29] She was a member of the British Home Secretary's Advisory Council on Race in 1979.[6]

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.[30][31] In 2005, she was made an OBE for services to literature.[14]

She received an Honorary doctorate of literature from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1992.[32]


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.[33][34][35] 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.[36]

Buchi Emecheta featured at number 98 on a list of 100 women recognised by BBC History Magazine as having changed the world.[37]




  • Head Above Water (1984; 1986)[6][28]

Children’s/Young adults' books[edit]



  • 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.


  1. ^ a b c d Busby, Margaret, "Buchi Emecheta obituary", The Guardian, 3 February 2017.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Ray, Ed. Mohit K., ed. (2007). The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 164. ISBN 9788126908325.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Ross, Robert L., ed. (1999). Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology. Psychology Press. p. 319. ISBN 9780815314318.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Olendorf, Donna, ed. (1991). Something about the Author (illustrated ed.). Gale Research International, Limited. p. 59. ISBN 9780810322769.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sleeman, Elizabeth (2001). The International Who's Who of Women 2002 (revised ed.). Psychology Press. p. 161. ISBN 9781857431223.
  7. ^ Onwordi, Sylvester, "Remembering my mother Buchi Emecheta, 1944–2017", New Statesman, 31 January 2017.
  8. ^ A Study Guide for Buchi Emecheta's "The Joys of Motherhood". Gale Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 9781410350268.
  9. ^ "Culture stars who died in 2017: from Doreen Keogh to Bruce Forsyth : Buchi Emecheta". The Telegraph. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  10. ^ a b A Study Guide for Buchi Emecheta's "The Bride Price". Gale, Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 9781410342034.
  11. ^ "Emecheta, Buchi", Biography, Postcolonial Studies @ Emory.
  12. ^ "Buchi Emecheta Essay". eNotes.com.
  13. ^ Jussawalla, Feroza F., Reed Way Dasenbrock, "Buchi Emecheta", Interviews with Writers of the Post-colonial World, University Press of Mississippi, 1992, p. 84.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist, dies aged 72". The Guardian. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  15. ^ Adeleye-Fayemi, Bisi, "LOUD WHISPERS: The First Class Citizen (Buchi Emecheta 1944-2017)", Above Whispers, 18 February 2017.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Contemporary Authors: Volume 126. Cengage Gale. 2004. p. 115. ISBN 9780787667184.
  18. ^ a b "Buchi Emecheta: Nigerian author who championed girls dies aged 72". BBC News. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  19. ^ British Book News. National Book League. 1986.
  20. ^ Busby, Margaret, "Buchi Emecheta", Daughters of Africa, London: Jonathan Cape, 1992, p. 656.
  21. ^ Society and Solitude (2 ed.). University Press of America. 1997. p. 241. ISBN 9780761801290.
  22. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald, "Writer, Her Dream Fulfilled, Seeks to Link Two Worlds", The New York Times, 2 June 1990.
  23. ^ International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004 (revised ed.). Psychology Press. 2003. p. 162. ISBN 9781857431797.
  24. ^ The Council of the Caine Prize for African Writing, "Tribute to Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017)", Caine Prize blog, 1 February 2017.
  25. ^ Kean, Danuta, "Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist, dies aged 72", The Guardian, 2 January 2017,
  26. ^ Adesanya, Femi, "Nigerian Literary Icon, Buchi Emecheta Has Died", Information Nigeria, 25 January 2017.
  27. ^ "Buchi Emecheta - Literature". literature.britishcouncil.org. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  28. ^ a b c d e "Buchi Emecheta 1944–", Concise Major 21st Century Writers , encyclopedia.com.
  29. ^ Emecheta, Buchi, "Head Above Water", Granta 7: Best of Young British Novelists | Essays & Memoir, 1 March 1983.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Jagne, Siga Fatima, and Pushpa Naidu Parekh (eds), Buchi Emecheta biography, Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Routledge, 1998, p. 149.
  33. ^ Onwordi, Sylvester, "Buchi Emecheta Foundation and Omenela Press created to Preserve a Legacy", KTravula.com, 20 November 2017.
  34. ^ "Celebrating Buchi Emecheta", Royal African Society.
  35. ^ "Celebrating Buchi Emecheta – February Event", Buchi Emecheta website.
  36. ^ Ezeigbo, Akachi, "Celebrating Buchi Emecheta in London a year after", The Guardian (Nigeria), 11 February 2018.
  37. ^ Laura Hampson and Gareth Richman, "20 of the most significant women in history", Evening Standard, 9 August 2018.
  38. ^ Umeh, Marie, ed. (1996). Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta (illustrated ed.). Africa World Press. p. xxiv. ISBN 9780865434554.
  39. ^ Sougou, Omar (2002). Writing Across Cultures: Gender Politics and Difference in the Fiction of Buchi Emecheta. Rodopi. p. 198. ISBN 9789042012981.
  40. ^ Jackson, Tommie Lee (2001). An Invincible Summer: Female Diasporean Authors. Africa World Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780865438231.
  41. ^ a b Malik, Sarita, "Black TV Writers", BFI ScreenOnline.
  42. ^ Lindfors, Bernth; Sander, Reinhard (1992). Twentieth-century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Gale Research Inc. p. 159.

Further reading[edit]

Selected tributes and obituaries[edit]

External links[edit]