Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta (aka “Buchi” Emecheta)
July 21, 1944 – January 25, 2017
Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta was born in Yaba, Nigeria to Igbo parents, Alice Okuekwuhe Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabundinke. In keeping with the cultural practices of the time, Emecheta’s younger brother was allowed to attend school while she remained at home. As a result, Emecheta’s education began informally with the stories her grandmother told about the Igbo and their culture. Hearing this oral history sparked Emecheta’s interest in creating stories of her own. With this desire in mind, she successfully convinced her parents to allow her to attend school.
Emecheta would spend much of her childhood in Ibusa where her parents had also grown up. Unfortunately, when Emecheta was around eight or nine her father died and it had a dramatic impact on the family. Jeremy was a devoted father who had showered Emecheta with love and attention. He’d supported the family as a railway worker but with his passing, Alice began to struggle. The two children were sent to live with separate relatives while Alice was remarried to her brother-in-law as was the common practice.
A family member, some sources say her aunt, became Emecheta’s benefactor. With encouragement and likely some financial support, Emecheta was able to continue her education. She was awarded a scholarship to Methodist girls’ high school which she attended until the age of 16. Unfortunately, Emecheta’s mother died during her first year. And the continued instability of her home life resulted in Emecheta being shuttled between the homes of family members.
Eventually, she began to stay on campus while her classmates went home to vacation and spend time with their families. Spending this time reading voraciously, Emecheta would dream up stories about imagined vacations to tell her classmates when they returned. Emecheta had hoped to attend the University of Ibadan after graduation. But she had been promised as a wife to Sylvester Onwordi when she was 11 and they were married when she was 16 which prevented her from attending university.
Married in 1960, the couple would have five children by 1966. During this time, Sylvester moved to England to attend London University. Emecheta and the children stayed behind in Nigeria where she found a job at the American Embassy. They continued with this arrangement for two years at the end of which time the family reunited in London.
Emecheta found work once again but the job this time was transformative as she was now a librarian at the British Museum. The environment reignited her passion for writing but this was not supported by Sylvester. The couple separated after he destroyed her first manuscript by lighting it on fire. This came after multiple instances of domestic violence and other factors that contributed to the marriage being quite unhappy.
The next few years would be quite difficult as Emecheta worked while also pursuing a sociology degree. Living in London as a Black woman and single mother with several young children was a struggle. But Emecheta managed to persevere and her fortunes improved as she landed a job as a columnist and completed her first novel. Two years later, she completed her degree and published another novel.
The two novels were loosely based on Emecheta’s life and experiences in Nigeria and London. She would have several books published during the 1970s and 1980s. Emecheta’s books often focused on African women and gender roles in society. Yet, she described her main goal as telling stories and didn’t classify herself as a feminist.
In time, Emecheta’s novels began to garner international attention. This led to opportunities for her to serve as a visiting professor and/or fellow at several colleges and universities in America as well as Nigeria. In addition to her regular novels, Emecheta also wrote young adult and children’s books. Taking her career to the next level, Emecheta established a publishing company that promoted African literature and through which she released her autobiography.
Throughout her career as a writer, Emecheta was nominated for and received several awards and honors. Given that her books often critiqued African cultural norms, they in turn were also received with both applause and criticism. Emecheta had a stroke in 2010 which resulted in continued health issues that unfortunately affected her ability to move and write. On January 25, 2017, Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta died from complications from her 2010 stroke. She was survived by three of her five children.
- Baraza, Alphonce. 2017. “Biography of Buchi Emecheta by Alphonce Baraza.” South African History Online. 2017.https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/biography-buchi-emecheta-alphonce-baraza.
- Busby, Margaret. 2017. “Buchi Emecheta Obituary.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. February 3, 2017.https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/03/buchi-emecheta-obituary.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ed. 2022. “Buchi Emecheta.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. July 17, 2022.https://www.britannica.com/biography/Buchi-Emecheta.
- Sullivan, Erin. 2022. “Florence Onyebuchi ‘Buchi’ Emecheta (1944 – 2017 ).” Blackpast.org. July 18, 2022. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/emecheta-buchi-1944/.
- Wilmot, Jennifer. 2017. “Remembering Buchi Emecheta.” The Project on the History of Black Writing. May 11, 2017. https://projecthbw.ku.edu/hbw/remembering-buchi-emecheta/.
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