Last Thursday, we woke up to the news that one of Africa’s literary icons, Buchi Emecheta had died in her sleep. I felt that we had lost more than an author, but a voice of resistance and resilience against the oppression of women.
Emecheta had a strong stance against gender based violence and racial politicking. Being able to find her voice amidst the struggles she had to deal with in her personal life makes her my heroine, I hope yours too. Getting married at 16, giving birth to five children in six years, dealing with physical abuse, having her first manuscript burnt by, her husband, divorcing, completing a sociology degree at the University of London and becoming an award winning author who touched generations is the story of someone who had a, larger than life attitude.
Having read the Joys of Motherhood, I cannot help but see Emecheta as a woman whose honesty could not have been tampered with. Her treatment of the protagonist, Nnu-Ego, could not have been more telling of some of the realities women face but decide not to talk about. In the book, she killed this character, something story-tellers hate doing with central characters. She chronicled her ‘shame’ with stark clarity as a window of beginning conversations with struggles that women face. The major one being, the pressure to bear sons, the triviality that society gives to women’s economic emancipation whilst giving more credit to ‘fruitfulness’.
Before I find myself writing a review of Joys of Motherhood let me go back to the life of Buchi who became one of the most influential writers of our time. Her writing became hope for women who found themselves in hopeless situations and unsure of the future . She became the hope for the woman who felt ‘burdened’ by motherhood such that she felt she could not pursue a professional career. This is because much of her fiction has focused on sexual politics coupled with racial prejudice. Through reading her books, one would get a picture of her own experiences as both a single parent and a black woman living in the diaspora. Another interesting aspect of her writing was the focus on myths which our society uphold vis-à-vis fertility, subject I once confronted on this platform.
Emecheta: The works
Emecheta published 20 books and among them was the semi-autobiographical In the Ditch (1972), which marked her genesis into the literary scene. It appeared initially in a series of articles published in the New Statesman magazine. The sequel, Second Class Citizen (1974), is a fictional portrait of a poor young Nigerian woman struggling to raise her children in London. Her third book, The Bride Price (1976), looked at women’s roles in Nigeria which were [are] relevant to many across Africa. The Slave Girl published in 1977, won of the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award for Commonwealth writers and The Joys of Motherhood , (1979), which was probably her most popular book, was a high school set book in Zimbabwe until 2008.
Her other works are Destination Biafra (1982), set during the civil war in Nigeria; The Rape of Shavi (1983), an allegorical account of European colonisation in Africa; Gwendolen (1989), the story of a young West Indian girl living in London; and Kehinde (1994), a novel about a middle-aged Nigerian wife and mother who returns to Nigeria after living in London for many years. The New Tribe, was her latest work, published in 2000.
Emecheta also the authored several children’s novels, among them Nowhere to Play (1980) and The Moonlight Bride (1980). In 1986, she published a volume of autobiography, Head above Water and her television play, A Kind of Marriage, was first screened by the BBC in 1976. In 1983 she was selected as one of twenty ‘Best of Young British Writers’ by the Book Marketing Council. In 2005, she was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. (OBE) (a Queen’s honour given to an individual for a major local role) for services to literature.
Emecheta will undoubtedly be missed by many who knew her and her work. Rest in peace literary giant, you left an indelible mark.
Main image: Buchi Emecheta. Image taken from 360Urban.net