Buchi Emecheta Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although she has resided in Britain since 1962, Buchi Emecheta (eh-mee-CHEH-tah) is generally known as Nigeria’s most prolific woman writer. Author of numerous novels, several children’s books, and teleplays, Emecheta has earned the undisputed place in African literature as a strident articulator of the female sensibility. Born Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta in Lagos, Nigeria, to Igbo parents, Emecheta was orphaned in childhood. This circumstance inevitably forced her to marry early (at sixteen, in 1960) and by age twenty-two she had become the mother of five children. Fleeing her oppressive marriage in 1966, Emecheta moved to a slum in London and struggled to support herself and her five children by working in the library at the British Museum.

The experience of welfare living and its enforced dysfunctionality provided the material for her first and second novels, In the Ditch and Second-Class Citizen. Much in these two autobiographical companion pieces parallels Emecheta’s fictionalized self. The first chronicles her descent into slum dwelling and the indignity of the racial prejudice she encountered in the British social welfare system; the latter portrays parts of her life as a young girl determined to get a Western education in spite of sexual, racial, and class oppression. Depicted throughout the protagonist’s indoctrination into squalid conditions and the blatant oppression of marriage are the values of determination and initiative. Despite her desperation at the beginning of each novel, Adah, the protagonist, emerges at the end an ambitious student of sociology with middle-class and creative aspirations, schooled in the art of self-preservation.

Like her protagonist, Emecheta endured the culture shock of London and much physical abuse from her husband, whose constant efforts to stifle her attempts at independence and creativity merely made her more determined to succeed. Undeterred by her husband’s vicious act of reading and then burning the manuscript of her first novel, Emecheta, while raising her five children on welfare, earned a degree in sociology from the University of London, graduating with honors. She wrote far into the night and in the mornings before her children arose....

(The entire section is 915 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Readers of Buchi Emecheta’s heavily autobiographical fiction will see its inspiration in the events of her life. Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta was born July 21, 1944, in modest circumstances to Igbo parents in Yaba, near Lagos, when Nigeria was still a British colony. Her father, described in the dedication to her novel In the Ditch as a “Railwayman and 14th Army Soldier in Burma,” died when she was nine years old. Despite economic disadvantages and racial and gender biases, Emecheta rose above her life circumstances. She won a scholarship to the Methodist Girls’ High School, staying there for half a dozen years until her marriage, at the age of sixteen, to Sylvester Onwordi. Following Igbo practice, she was engaged to Onwordi at the age of eleven. In 1962, she moved to London, where Onwordi had relocated one year earlier to study accounting.

Despite an abusive marriage and the births of five children in six years, Emecheta focused on the two activities that would save her from poverty and degradation: She learned how to write, and she developed a career that would lead her to academia. From 1965, still in London, Emecheta began to work outside the home, first in the library of the British Museum and later for the Inner London Education Authority as a youth worker and sociologist. She left her husband in 1966, kept custody of her children, and entered the University of London, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1972....

(The entire section is 456 words.)