The incredible life of Buchi Emecheta, the celebrated British-Nigerian writer
Google has put out a new doodle to celebrate Buchi Emecheta, the British-Nigerian writer who died two years ago.
The new Google Doodle is commemorating what would be the 75th birthday of the recognised writer of 20 novels, whom some have called “the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948”.
Emecheta’s novels draw on her own life as a single mother and an immigrant in the UK, and over time dealt with themes including race and women’s quests for equal treatment, self-confidence and dignity both in Nigeria and as immigrants.
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Buchi Emecheta was born on 21 July 1944 in an ethnic Ibo family in the suburbs of Lagos, Nigeria, and grew up listening to her grandmother’s tales. She married in 1960 at the age of 16, and her first daughter was born in the same year. By 1966, when she was 22, the family had five children.
Her husband Sylvester Onwordi travelled to London to attend university in 1962, and Emecheta followed him with their children.
Her first novel, In The Ditch, echoes the unhappiness of the marriage. In the novel, a fictionalised alter-ego Adah daydreams of becoming a writer while living with a violent husband in horrendous conditions.
On one occasion, her husband burned the manuscript of her first novel. She decided it was enough, and left him to become a single mother with five children, finding employment as an assistant librarian at the British Museum.
“My mother was a born storyteller,” says her first son, also called Sylvester Onwordi. “As an immigrant single mother battling poverty in the slums of 1960s London, she would draw her five small children around her, light candles, and delight us with what she called her ‘Moonlight tales’—stories she had learned at twilight by the light of a hurricane lamp from her aunts in the village, or imbibed at her father’s knee during her family’s internal exile in Lagos.”
She became a prolific writer, and wrote most of her novels while raising five children on her own. In The Ditch was published in 1972, and its sequel Second-Class Citizen followed in 1974.
Other novels – such as The Bride Price and The Joys of Motherhood – explored the role of women in Nigeria, while The Rape of Shavi (1983) provided an allegorical account of European colonisation in Africa. She also published an autobiography, Head Above Water, in 1986.
Emecheta always refused to be labelled as a feminist, although she said: “I work toward the liberation of women. My books are about survival, just like my own life.”
Later in life, she established herself as a visiting professor of English at various US universities including UCLA and Yale and became a resident fellow of English at the University of Calabar in Nigeria.
She was named an Officer of the British Empire in 2005.
A stroke affected her ability to move and write in 2010, and she died in London on 25 January 2017.