Sociology Index

Florence Onyebuchi "Buchi" Emecheta

Florence Onyebuchi "Buchi" Emecheta OBE (21 July 1944 – 25 January 2017) was a Nigerian-born novelist, based in the UK from 1962. Her works explore the tension between tradition and modernity. She has been characterized as "the first successful black woman novelist living in Britain after 1948". She was the author of more than 20 books, including Second Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979). Buchi Emecheta features at number 98 on a list of 100 women recognised in August 2018 by BBC History Magazine as having changed the world. On 21 July 2019, which would have been Emecheta's 75th birthday, Google commemorated her life with a Doodle.

Most of her early novels were published by Allison and Busby, where her editor was Margaret Busby. Emecheta's themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence and freedom through education gained recognition from critics and honours. She once described her stories as "stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical." Florence Onyebuchi "Buchi" Emecheta figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

She gave birth to five children in six years. At the age of 22, pregnant with her fifth child, Emecheta left her husband. Most of her fictional works are focused on sexual discrimination and racial prejudice informed by her own experiences as both a single parent and a black woman living in the United Kingdom. Emecheta marriage was unhappy and sometimes violent, as chronicled in her autobiographical writings such as 1974's Second-Class Citizen. To keep her sanity, Emecheta wrote in her spare time. However, her husband was deeply suspicious of her writing, and he ultimately burned her first manuscript, as revealed in The Bride Price, eventually published in 1976. That was her first book, but she had to rewrite it after the first version had been destroyed. She later said "There were five years between the two versions." While working to support her children alone, she earned a B.Sc (Hons) degree in Sociology in 1972 from the University of London. In her 1984 autobiography, Head Above Water she wrote: "As for my survival for the past twenty years in England, from when I was a little over twenty, dragging four cold and dripping babies with me and pregnant with a fifth one—that is a miracle." She went on later to gain her PhD from the university in 1991.

Emecheta began writing about her experiences of Black British life in a regular column in the New Statesman, and a collection of these pieces became her first published book in 1972, In the Ditch. The semi-autobiographical novel chronicled the struggles of a main character named Adah, who is forced to live in a housing estate while working as a librarian to support her five children. Her second novel published two years later, Second-Class Citizen (Allison and Busby, 1974), also drew on Emecheta's own experiences, and both books were eventually published in one volume by Allison and Busby under the title Adah's Story (1983). These three stories introduced Emecheta's three major themes which were the quest for equal treatment, self confidence and dignity as a woman. Her works Gwendolen (1989) also published as family, Kehinde (1994) and The New Tribe (2000) differ in some way as they address the issues of immigrants life in Great Britain.