Buchi Emecheta is often considered among the fore-mothers of contemporary African women’s literature. Her works have been read around the world and her novels continue to influence young African women writers today. Emecheta, who gained prominence in the early 1970s by chronicling Black British life and especially the lives of African women, delved into serious topics such as child marriage, motherhood, and female autonomy. Her works challenged sexist norms both in African and European societies and opened up dialogue on the role of African women on the local and the global stage. But Buchi Emecheta’s greatest legacy was in the way she encouraged women to seek economic freedom. Her most powerful stories emphasized female autonomy and showed the ways in which women who worked and planned their families could thrive in a sexist world.
Buchi Emecheta was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1944. She was married at a very young age, at the age of 16, and moved to England from Nigeria with her husband soon after. Emecheta would write about her violent marriage in many of her books. She would chronicle leaving her husband at a young age and raising five children as a single mother in 1970s and 1980s England. Emecheta would use her personal experiences to inform and educate African women both in Africa and in the diaspora. Her works were often semi-autobiographical, detailing personal experiences of spousal abuse, immigrant trials, and economic destitution that women but especially African women could relate to. As one of the early pioneers of African women’s literature, Buchi Emecheta’s candid portrayal of the African woman’s experience opened doors for other women writers and ushered in a new wave of consciousness among African women.
But Buchi Emecheta’s greatest legacy lay in the remedies she offered African women through her work. Her most notable books, The Joys of Motherhood and Second-Class Citizen, detailed the struggles that African women face both as immigrants in Europe and as second-class citizens in Africa. In these two of her most celebrated books, Emecheta chronicled struggles with child marriage and sexist violence. But in her books, Emecheta often offered solutions and guides to women, guides that helped elevate the discourse from women’s suffering to women’s emancipation. She emphasized the ways in which Igbo women worked outside the home and she encouraged women to save and live within their means. She also emphasized family planning and taught women to see wealth in stability and economic empowerment rather than in having more children than they could support. Emecheta wrote female characters who had economic independence and planned their families and showed how their lives were improved over the lives of women who had not planned theirs. Through her works, Buchi Emecheta was, thus, a strong advocate for women’s financial literacy.
Ultimately, Buchi Emecheta was a strong voice for African women and a strong advocate for African women’s increased economic independence. She was among the first African women to receive international acclaim writing about women’s issues and her emphasis on teaching and guiding African women enriched the lives of her readers. She was a champion of the African woman’s sense of self, her financial independence from her husband and the men in her life. Emecheta’s works broadened the scope of the African woman’s life and ushered in a new era of strength and responsibility among her African women readers. When she passed away in January of 2017, she was honored around the world and the world of literature and especially African women’s literature lost a powerful voice.
by Kosiso Ugwueze