Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta OBE (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).
Early Life: 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 molder. 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-girls missionary school. When she was nine years old her father died. 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 younger son was born.
Onwordi immediately moved to London to attend university and Emecheta joined him there with their first two children in 1962. She gave 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 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.”At the age of 22, pregnant with her fifth child, Emecheta left her husband.
Achievements: While working to support her children alone, she earned a B.Sc (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 Ph.D. from the university in 1991.
Following her success as an author, Emecheta traveled 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 a 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. 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 the United Kingdom.
Legacy: Her themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence, and freedom through education gained recognition from critics and honors. 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”. Buchi Emecheta suffered a stroke in 2010, and she died in London on 25 January 2017, aged 72.