Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta (eh-mee-CHEH-tah) was born on July 21, 1944, in Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria, to Egbo parents, Jeremy Nwaudike and Alice Ogbanje Okwuekwu Emecheta. Wanting their two children to maintain connections with their cultural traditions, the parents would travel back and forth to their native village, Ibuza. There Emecheta was exposed to storytellers—an influence that is evident in her work, for her writing style is one of storytelling. She credits listening to storytellers, particularly her father’s sister “Big Mother,” as the factor that shaped her literary imagination.
Emecheta’s father died when she was nine years old, and the family was separated. Emecheta went to live with her mother’s cousin in Lagos, her mother was inherited by her husband’s brother, and her younger brother went to live with her father’s brother. Although Emecheta relates that she was treated like a servant, she was able to continue her education by winning a scholarship to Methodist Girls’ High School, and consequently she was able to fulfill one of her childhood dreams—to receive an education.
When her dream of attending the University of Ibadan was thwarted, she married Sylvester Onwordi in 1960, to whom she had been promised since the age of eleven. She worked for the American embassy in Lagos for two years supporting the family of four and then followed her husband, a student, to London. There she continued to support the growing family, which then consisted of five children—Chiedu (Florence), Ikechukwu (Sylvester), Chukwuemeka (Jake), Obiajulu (Christy), and Chiago (Alice)—by working as a librarian at the British Museum. Surrounded by books and having had the dream of being a writer since childhood, Emecheta began to write in her spare time. She completed her first manuscript; however, it was burned by her husband, an action that led to their separation.
Deciding that the one thing she could do was write and needing to support her family, Emecheta began writing a column for the New...
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