Igbo

Buchi Emecheta: A Legacy Honoured

By Niki

 

In February 2018, Omenala Press played host to a celebration of Buchi Emecheta in London; launching 6 of 12 imprints of Buchi's books. A day of rekindled memories, healing, story telling and conversations, Niki recounts the event and its reinforcement on the importance of Emecheta's work and life.

Image: George Braziller, Inc.

Image: George Braziller, Inc.

 

I

f you are unfamiliar with Buchi Emecheta’s story, do yourself a favour: pick up any of her books and start reading — immediately, too. A prolific writer, her body of work includes articles, plays, both adult and children books, and an autobiography. Her books, though mostly works of fiction, were inspired by her experiences and those of others around her. Just in her 20s, Buchi found herself being breadwinner, mother, wife, dreamer and goal getter in cold racist Britain.

Fearful that a woman could be greater than he imagined, her husband, Sylvester Onwordi, burnt her first manuscript, The Bride Price, in a fit of jealousy. This feeling, which she likened to burning a child, in addition to her deep connection to her Igbo heritage and ancestral hometown of Ibusa, formed Emecheta’s voice — the very voice hundreds gathered to celebrate over eight hours on a wintery Saturday in London.

Over the course of an exceptional career, she lectured at Universities around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom and Nigeria - a place she always longed to call home but was never able to. In the 60s and 70s when she began writing, there were but a few Nigerian women, like Flora Nwapa and Zaynab Alkali, being celebrated for this craft. There were even fewer writing as raw and as unapologetically as Emecheta did in all her work.

 

Forever Young

The event, organised by Omenala Press and The Buchi Emecheta Foundation, was held a year after her passing in 2017; primarily to re-launch her classics. To this, the covers of 12 of her 20 books were redesigned by Victor Ehikhamenor, with 6 released in February. Beautifully abstract, undeniably centred in old artistic traditions yet maintaining a newness, these covers are sure to incite the reader to embrace Emecheta’s narratives with a fresh eye.

This blend of the old and new is reflective of the work everyone involved in the project sought to achieve — that is, giving young(er) generations access to their history and having the older generation see their legacy honoured. Going by the attendance at the Celebrating Buchi event, this intergenerationality was indeed reflected. For an attendee accompanied by her daughter, re-discovering Emecheta whilst going through a divorce was a saving grace, and an affirmation that she could survive the loss. To hear of such a powerful effect that Emecheta’s work could have on one woman and to also see that her daughter could join such a space was symbolic.

 

There Is Joy In Motherhood

The imprints of Buchi Emecheta’s work come as a result of Omenala Press - an independent publisher established by Buchi’s son, Sylvester Onwordi. Following her passing, he shared, he discovered mounds of unpublished Emecheta work, which inspired a journey that has seen him now wear the title ‘publisher.’ This, one can say, is a full circle journey as Emecheta was also a publisher; setting up Ogwugwu Afor Publishingb for the distribution of her books and others like hers in both Britain and Ibusa, Nigeria.

Onwordi’s dedication to his mother’s work contradicts some of the portrayals of the payoff of motherhood in Emecheta’s work. In particular, the ironically named The Joys of Motherhood - her sixth novel which brutally portrays an image of what raising children as a poor woman in a patriarchal society can be like. There was gratitude for Onwordi and the Omenala Press team from both panelists and audience alike.

As echoed by an attendee, The Buchi Emecheta Foundation serves as an important first step in ensuring Emecheta’s work becomes as common a place in British Libraries as Shakespeare and Dickens. That Emecheta’s work needs to be included in curricula across as many educational years as possible was stressed by a panelist, who noted a lack of awareness of the author’s work by librarians. This means that for those looking to explore reading outside certain education pathways, the chances of discovering Emecheta’s work are unlikely.

 

Uncovering Buchi

The day was broken up into panels, workshops and a gallery exhibitionc - The Legacies of Biafra at the Brunei Gallery. The panelists ranged from academics who have spent time studying her work to individuals who had personal connection to Emecheta. As a reader, it was enthralling to be sat in a room with people who had spent time with Emecheta in both professional and personal capacities. To hear about Buchi - the mother, friend and business woman - was to hear about parts uncovered in her novels. It was beautiful to experience an idol being fleshed out from places of love.

Chaired by Delia Jarrett Macauley, one of the panels focused on love and discovery in the work of the author. Panelists linked Emecheta’s work to the personal; family, friendships, marriages and self, emphasising the relatability of Emecheta’s work in the present. The sweetest of all panels, however, was that on legacy and heritage and chaired by Bola Mosuro. The discussions ranged from the disparity in which the wealthy and poor in Nigeria raise their children in Nigeria; to a showcase of Emecheta lecturing across Universities in the United States, and fraternising with beloved African American academics.

The Afrikult. workshop provided further insight into how personal and influential Emecheta’s work has been to Black British women. People shared their first encounter with Emecheta’s work; dissecting quotes from certain novels from critical, personal and emotive perspectives. For one woman, reading Emecheta’s biography, Head Above Water, while training to become a social worker in the 80s, changed her approach to her career. She explained that the book made her understand the cultural aspects of the increasing wave of Commonwealth migrants to the UK; giving her a wider perspective that many in her field lacked.

Emecheta remains an enigma to me as her books enveloped realities too often brushed under the carpet by the women around me, and the expectations that cripple them. For many women and young girls, alike, these expectations are not contextualised, and a necessary fleshing out of the good and bad parts of meeting these expectations is mostly ignored. Emecheta, in her writing, did stretching. By creating her work and in turn, a space, Buchi spelt out the good and bad; thus determining, long before death, her own legacy.

 

Omenala Press will launch the new reprints in Lagos, Nigeria at the Nigerian International Book Fair on May 9, 2018. Find out more about the event on our What's On segment here.


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Notes

a Read more about Buchi Emecheta here.

b In this article, originally written in 1990 and published in print, Emecheta shares with The (New York) Times on why she embarked on the journey of setting up a publishing house. Likewise, in her interwiew with Joyce Boss, Buchi touches on her frustration with Western publishers and her reason for creating her own platform and publishing.

c Emecheta's Destination Biafra remains an important contribution to literature on Biafra; thus, the exhibition made a great fit for the event. This is because both stories - Biafra’s and Emecheta’s - are centred around trauma: living with trauma, surviving trauma, experiencing trauma, and what it does to future generations.

 

The Bride Price

In The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta is a capable surgeon; slicing right to the heart of what it meant to be a girl in Nigeria in the 1950s. With an uncompromising deftness and an artless charm, she explores the minutiae of life in South-Eastern colonial Nigeria; holding up to the light the many microaggressions that add to the framework of patriarchal oppression institutionalised as culture and tradition. Aku-nna is the conduit, and her life, as well as those of other female characters, explore the enslavement of women by traditional practices such as the payment of bride price, widowhood rites, courting games, marriage by abduction and the Osu Caste system.


Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria

By Tobi

10 quotes from Chinua Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria.

Image: AP / Craig Ruttle via  The Atlantic .

Image: AP / Craig Ruttle via The Atlantic.

Achebe, Achebe, Achebe. I have gushed countlessly (okay, maybe twice) about his writing and why it never fails to resonate. One, for his ability to mirror the truth, and unapologetically so. Second, for his storytelling; his hilarious yet sharp-cutting narratives. More than anything, what distinguishes his work is its relevance – from his anti-colonial African Trilogy to A Man Of The People – which permeates several decades. This latter reason, notably, is major thanks to the fixity of Nigeria’s - its leaders and populace - unwillingness to implement radical change to upturn its history.

In his infamous booklet written in 1983, The Trouble With Nigeria, Nigeria’s years of political instability feature yet again as a canvas. The author brazenly discusses 10 fundamental areas that “cripple” and “inhibit” Nigeria as a state, people and nation. Achebe pools his varied experience and excerpts from daily newspapers to prove, indeed, that “the only thing [Nigeria] has learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.” Of the numerous quotes favourited, I share 10 that that will leave you snapping your fingers while reading The Trouble With Africa Nigeria.

 

1. Where The Problem Lies

2. Tribalism

Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner of later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies...consigning a life-and-death issue to the daily routine of small talk.
Nothing in Nigeria’s political history captures her problem of integration more graphically than the chequered fortune of the word tribe in her vocabulary.

3. False Image Of Ourselves

4. Leadership, Nigerian-Style

I know enough history to realize that civilization does not fall down from the sky; it has always been the result of people’s toil and sweat, the fruit of their long search for order and justice under brave and enlightened leaders.
A basic element of [Nigeria’s leadership] misfortune is the absence of political thought of our founding fathers — a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centred pedestrianism.

5. Patriotism

6. Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity

A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people.

...the real explosive potential of social injustice in Nigeria does not reside in the narrow jostling among the elite but in the gargantuan disparity of privilege they have created between their tiny class and the vast multitudes of ordinary Nigerians.

7. Indiscipline

8. Corruption

There is indeed no better place to observe the thrusting indiscipline in Nigeria than on the roads: frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness...
Nigerians are corrupt today because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable...

9. The Igbo Problem

10. The Example Of Aminu Kano

The lack of real leaders in Igboland goes back, of course, to the beginnings of colonial administration...the average Igbo leader’s mentality has not been entirely free of the collaborating Warrant Chief syndrome.
...you have told us that you want our votes so that you can serve us. If we get killed while you are getting the vote, who then will you serve?

Have you read Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria? What are your favourite quotes?