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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).
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 under the title Adah's Story (Allison and Busby, 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.
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, 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 – to be launched in London on 3 February 2018.
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 (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
The New Tribe (2000)
Head Above Water (1984; 1986)
Children’s/Young adults' books
Titch the Cat (1979)
Nowhere to Play (1980)
The Wrestling Match (1981)
Juju Landlord (episode of Crown Court), Granada Television, 1975
A Kind of Marriage, BBC television, 1976.
Family Bargain, BBC Television, 1987.