On July 21, 1944 in Yaba near Lagos, Nigeria, Buchi Emecheta was born to Jeremy Nwabudike and Alice Okwuekwu Emecheta. At a young age, Emecheta was orphaned and she spent her early childhood years being educated at a missionary school. In 1960, at the age of sixteen, Emecheta was married to Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was eleven. After their marriage, Sylvester and Buchi moved to London. Over the course of her six year marriage, Emecheta gave birth to five children. Her marriage as well as her childhood are alluded to in her semi-autobiographical novel, Second-Class Citizen. She published widely and received numerous awards for her work, including the Order of the British Empire in 2005. She passed away in January 2017.
Buchi Emecheta’s works deal primarily with portrayals of African women. The main characters of her novels show what it means to be a woman and a mother in Nigerian society. Emecheta looks at how sexuality and the ability to bear children can sometimes be the terms only used to define femininity and womanhood. She is interested in how gender intersects and engages with education, poverty and enslavement (see Gender and Nation, Third World and Third World Women).
In the Ditch, published in 1972, is inspired by Emecheta’s life after she leaves her husband and is living on her own with her children in a poor neighborhood of London. The main character, Adah, supports her children by working in a library at the British Museum. Adah is forced to live in an housing estate set aside for problem families. This estate is known as Pussy Cat Mansions and it is a place filled with women. Adah can not identify with the women of Pussy Cat Mansions and her dignity is wounded because of the charity she is forced to accept. The main focus of the novel is the importance of initiative and determination, for these are the only tools which help Adah get out of “the ditch”.
In Emecheta’s second novel, Second-Class Citizen, Adah is being denied a Western education because she is a girl. This novel again characterizes Adah as having the initiative and determination to get what she wants — the Western education being denied to her. The basic theme of Second-Class Citizen is one of vehement animosity at the gender discrimination that is often found in the culture of her people. Adah is also encumbered because of the gender discrimination that is the foundation of her marriage. Her husband, Francis, treats her as property. Adah is forced to support the family and is responsible for the children. In the meanwhile, Francis goes to school, studies, and continuously fails exams. Adah is in constant battle to try to preserve her womanhood, and when she finally leaves Francis, she experiences a strong sense of relief. After leaving Francis, Adah has moments of loneliness and despair but in the end she comes out triumphant because of her willpower.
One of Emecheta’s finest novels, The Joys of Motherhood, is set in a time of great political and economic change for Nigeria. The chapter titles, “The Mother,” “The Mother’s Mother,” “The Mother’s Early Life,” “First Shock of Motherhood,” etc., follow the highs and lows of the heroine, Nnu Ego’s, destiny. Nnu Ego’s whole destiny is centered around her as a mother. Nnu Ego places all her hope for happiness and prosperity in her children, yet she is constantly disappointed. As a result, Nnu Ego finds no joy in her grown children.
Emecheta’s 1986 novel, Head Above Water, continues to describe her struggle to raise her family all alone. Adah finds jobs to support her family, gains a degree in sociology, and still manages to find time to write. Head Above Water looks at the social conditions of blacks in late-twentieth-century London and it shows Emecheta’s progression as a novelist. The novel ends with two monumental accomplishments — the purchase of her own house and her becoming a full-time writer.
- Emecheta, Buchi. The Bride Price. New York: George Braziller, 1976.
- —. The Slave Girl. New York: George Braziller, 1977.
- —. Titch the Cat. London: Allison & Busby, 1979.
- —. Nowhere to Play. London: Allison & Busby, 1980.
- —. The Moonlight Bride. New York: George Braziller, 1980.
- —. The Wrestling Match. New York: George Braziller, 1980.
- —. On Our Freedom. London: Sheba Feminist, 1981.
- —. Destination Biafra. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1982.
- —. Naira Power. Oxford: Macmillan, 1982.
- —. Double Yoke. New York: George Braziller, 1982.
- —. The Rape of Shavi. George Braziller, 1983.
- —. Adah’s Story. London: Allison & Busby, 1983.
- —. A Kind of Marriage. Oxford: Macmillan, 1986.
- —. Family Bargain. New York: George Braziller, 1987.
- —. Gwendolen. New York: W W Norton & Co Inc, 1990.
- Kehinde (Heinemann, African Writers Series, 1994).
- The New Tribe (Heinemann, African Writers Series, 1999)
- Anthony, Barthelemy. “Western Time, African Lives : Time in the Novels of Buchi Emecheta.” Callaloo 12.3 (1989) :559-574.
- Bruner, Charlotte, and David Bruner. “Buchi Emecheta and Maryse Conde : Contemporary Writing from Africa and the Caribbean.” World Literature Today 59(1985) : 9-13.
- Jahn, Janhenz. Who’s Who in African Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 1972. 209-211.
- Popkin, Michael, ed. Modern Black Writers. Ann Arbor: Ungar, 1978.
- Umeh, Marie, “African Women in Transition in the Novels of Buchi Emecheta.” Presence Africane 116 (1980) : 190-201.
- Postcolonial Web, http://www.postcolonialweb.org/nigeria/emecheta/emechetaov.html
Author: Benecia L. Williams, Fall 1997
Last Updated: May 2017