Flora Nwapa (13 January 1931 – 16 October 1993) was a Nigerian author who has been called the mother of modern African literature. She was the forerunner to a generation of African women writers and was also acknowledged as the first African woman novelist to be published in the English language in Britain. She achieved international recognition, with her first novel Efuru published in 1966 at the age of 30 years by Heinemann Educational Books. While never considering herself a feminist, she is best known for recreating life and traditions from an Igbo woman’s viewpoint.
Early Life: Nwapa was born in Oguta, in South-Eastern Nigeria, the eldest of the six children of Christopher Ijeoma (an agent with the United Africa Company) and Martha Nwapa, a teacher of drama. Flora Nwapa attended school in Oguta, secondary school at Elelenwa in Port Harcourt and Lagos. At the age of 22 years, she entered the university in 1953 and earned a BA degree at the age of 26 years from University College, Ibadan, in 1957. She then went to Scotland, where she earned a Diploma in Education from Edinburgh University in 1958. After returning to Nigeria, Nwapa joined the Ministry of Education in Calabar as an Education Officer until 1959. She then took employment as a teacher at Queen’s School in Enugu, where she taught English and Geography from 1959-1962. She continued to work in both education and the civil service in several positions, including as Assistant Registrar, University of Lagos (1962–67). After the Nigerian civil war of 1967–70, she accepted cabinet office as Minister of Health and Social Welfare in East Central State (1970–71), and subsequently as Minister of Lands, Survey and Urban Development (1971–74). She was a visiting lecturer at Alvan Ikoku College of Education in Owerri, Nigeria. In 1989, she was appointed a visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Maiduguri.
Achievements: Nwapa’s first book, Efuru, was published in 1966 at the age of 30 years and is considered a pioneering work as an English-language novel by an African woman writer. She sent the transcript to the famous Nigerian author Chinua Achebe in 1962 who replied with a very positive letter and even included money for the postage to mail the manuscript to the English publisher, Heinemann.
It was followed by the other novels such as Idu (1970), Never Again (1975), One is Enough (1981), and Women are Different (1986). She published two collections of stories – This is Lagos (1971) and Wives at War (1980) – and the volume of poems, Cassava Song and Rice Song (1986). She is also the author of several books for children.
In 1974 she founded Tana Press and in 1977 the Flora Nwapa Company, publishing her own adult and children’s literature as well as works by other writers. She gave as one of her objectives: “to inform and educate women all over the world, especially Feminists (both with capital F and small f) about the role of women in Nigeria, their economic independence, their relationship with their husbands and children, their traditional beliefs and their status in the community as a whole”. Tana has been described as “the first press run by a woman and targeted at a large female audience. A project far beyond its time at a period when no one saw African women as constituting a community of readers or a book-buying demographic.
Legacy: Nwapa’s career as an educator continued throughout her life and encompassed teaching at colleges and universities internationally, including at New York University, Trinity College, the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and the University of Ilorin. She said in an interview with Contemporary Authors, “I have been writing for nearly thirty years. My interest has been on both the rural and the urban woman in her quest for survival in a fast-changing world dominated by men.”Nwapa is also known for her governmental work in reconstruction after the Biafran War, in particular, she worked with orphans and refugees who were displaced during the war. Furthermore, she published African literature and promoted women in African society. She was one of the first African women publishers when she founded Tana Press in 1970. She was made the Ogbuefi in 1978, not a small achievement in the paternalistic societies of Africa where some men look upon women as objects of subjugation. Flora Nwapa died of pneumonia on 16 October 1993 in a hospital at Enugu, Nigeria, at the age of 62.