The Resilience of Buchi Emecheta

photograph of Buchi EmechetaSometimes writers have their moment in the sun, and then attention slips elsewhere and they become neglected. One such writer is Buchi Emecheta, the Nigerian novelist who spent much of her life in the UK.

Much of her fiction is based on her own life and reflects her interests in women’s independence, education and motherhood. These key concerns are inextricably intertwined with her early life and relationships. Emecheta was the daughter of a woman who had been a slave, she fought for her own education and she married her childhood boyfriend at the age of 16. By the time she was 17, she had two children.

The move to the UK

Cover of Emecheta's Second-Class CitizenMoving to England with her young husband for his university education, she had three further children though her marriage was challenging. Emecheta wrote when she could. However, this was a source of tension too and when her husband destroyed the manuscript of her first novel, she left him, though pregnant at the time. She then pursued her own university education while looking after her children and writing. Independence, education, motherhood – little wonder that these matters dominate her novels and non-fiction. She was successful both as a writer and an academic, gaining a PhD in 1991.

She was first published as a journalist, writing about the immigrant experience in Britain, but made her name particularly with her second novel, Second-Class Citizen, which drew strongly on her own experiences and made clear her central interests.

Resilience and Success

Cover of Emecheta's The Bride PriceHer story is inspiring – especially that she eventually rewrote the novel that her husband had burned as The Bride Price, which was eventually published as her third novel. She continued to write and did a range of jobs, ranging from a community worker in London to lectureships at American universities.

She was listed by Granta in 1983 as one of its Best Young British Novelists, along with Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro and Rose Tremain, which is significant company. Emecheta died in 2017 and it is time to go back a read again.

Here’s a guide to her writing, written by the editor of many of her books, and here is Buchi Emecheta’s page on the British Council site.

More from Nigeria

Helen Oyeyemi, like Emecheta, was born in Nigeria but is now based in England. Here’s a review of her latest novel.

And Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s first novel Blessings is also receiving acclaim.