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Remembering Buchi Emecheta: 1944-2017

 

 

 

Buchi Emecheta, was born in Nigeria. Although she lived for over 50 years in England where she wrote and published all her books, she made sure she visited Nigeria regularly: as Visiting Professor, notably to the University of Calabar; attending  conferences, and making other public appearances.

Among African writers of the 20th Century and into the 21st, she was one of the most prolific, with over 20 books including arguably the best known of them,THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD. She died in London at age 72, survived by 3 of her 5 children


Some of us began missing Buchi from the moment we heard that she had become somewhat incapacitated. Apart from the fact that that didn't sound like her, what we found equally disturbing was the unclarity surrounding the nature of that incapacitation.

Buchi Emecheta was nothing if not energetic and clear: as in the decision to leave the now much-quoted abusive marriage in which her husband burnt the first draft of her first book. Those of us who heard it first hand can never forget the absence of any regret or self pity about all that. Rather, what she shared with us was an eye twinkling, wickedly witty account that left us equally shocked and in stitches. But clearly, Emecheta bought the right to be a writer at a higher premium than most. Apart from the foregoing, we are now learning that much earlier in her life, one of her schoolteachers "beat her in front of the class for announcing that she wanted to be a writer"...

We mourn Buchi. That she had to leave. We could do with more time to keep on challenging her on issues like how anyone can claim "to work toward the liberation of women" but deny being a "feminist"?!

Buchi Emecheta was expert at cutting through mush. So at writers' conferences and other public meetings, some of us came to unconsciously rely on her to deal solidly with the regular and bewildering array of questions and comments from well-meaning but fractious press, academics, students and the general reading public. While we fumbled for responses to a perennially frustrating question like "which of your books is your favourite?", Buchi would be swift with "my books are like my children. I don't have favourites".

I taught The Joys of Motherhood in my course on African Women's Literature: The Novel. With the passing of each academic year, I got to appreciate the book more greatly, with its tongue-in-cheek title and haunting tales of disappointment and heartbreak. But that is not all of why I miss Buchi so much. Though a few years younger, Buchi came on seriously as my older sister: scolding me every opportunity she got for my financial spaciness and my general lack of practical sense. I am desolate.

Ama Ata Aidoo
PS. If you are able to read the foregoing but had never heard of Buchi or read any of her books, please don't confess this to anyone. Just go look for any of her books and begin to make up for what you've been missing. After all, that grave omission may not be entirely your fault. So much of the lack of awareness of someone like Buchi Emecheta and her writing was due to the poor distribution of African books generally, as well as the marginalization of African women writers and their works. AAA.