Sefi Atta (left); Chika Unigwe and Molara Wood, at a tribute event for the late novelist, Buchi Emecheta, held at Terra Kulture… in Lagos
For her immense contributions to the country’s body of literary works in a writing career that spanned 44 years, authors, associates, friends and family members gathered recently to honour and pay tributes to the foremost Nigerian novelist, Mrs. Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta, who died in January at 72. Tagged ‘An Afternoon of Tribute for Buchi Emecheta,’ it was held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
One of the organisers, Ike Oguine said they decided to honour Emecheta because she wrote more than 20 books in her lifetime, books that have impacted positively on Nigeria literature. Some of them include The Joys of Motherhood, The Slave Girl and Second Class Citizen, among others. Oguine said her books deal with a particular perspective on Nigeria, in showing a woman’s point of view at a time when female writers were not known.
In her tribute to the late writer, author of Everything Good Will Come, Sefi Atta, who read excerpts from a signed autobiography of Emecheta, Head Above Water, remarked that she was proud of the author’s achievements as a woman, a mother and a writer. Atta described Emecheta as an insightful writer, whose work was an introduction to Nigeria’s feminist ideas.
She said: “What set her apart from other writers of her time and mine was that she was incredibly resourceful, industrious and tenacious.”The acclaimed author observed that Emecheta never regarded other female writers as a threat to her success, saying the late Flora Nwapa regarded her as a friend. She noted that reading Emecheta’s autobiography is like listening to an aunt telling a story, who will say: “This happened; wait, don’t cry yet; listen to what I have to say.”
Atta noted that there are sections in the book, where one is compelled to take a cue from her, adding: “There are sections in Head Above Water, where I was angry on her behalf, but she didn’t allow my anger to last. There were sections, which I wanted to cry, but she made me laugh. But it wasn’t until I got to the end of the book that my emotion overwhelmed me. But, according to Buchi, that was how she dealt with her own emotion; she didn’t have time to dwell in them.”
After her death, Atta confessed that she often found herself talking about the author as if she was still alive. She submitted that though Emecheta is dead and her work is done, she would continue to resonate with people.
For Chika Unigwe (winner of The Nigerian Prize for Literature 2014, with On Black Sisters Street), who also read excerpts from Emecheta’s novel, Second Class Citizen, the author was a guiding light for younger female writers. She disclosed how the writer completely changed her orientation on writing as a profession and made her to see it as something that can put food on her table.
Also speaking at the event was the son of the author, Sylvester Onwordi, who remarked that his mother was always true to herself. He said he knew her not just as a writer, but as a mother, who loves to tell stories. Onwordi said one of his earliest memories was of her sitting down to tell them stories as children. He noted that reading her books again seems as though she was back from the grave.
Author of Indigo (a collection of short stories), Molara Wood, who also read excerpts from Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, noted that long before the rise of female writers, the author trod a lonely path and took Nigerian fiction to international height, thus making herself a household name at home and abroad. Wood remarked Emecheta wrote important books on what it means to be at home and what it means to be in a foreign land.
According to Wood, “Emecheta overcame great odds. Her husband burnt her manuscripts, yet she persevered, thus setting a wonderful example for every married women.”She, however, stated that it was time pioneer women writers were accorded their rightful place of honour in African literature.
Also speaking at the event, a participant, who gave his name simply has Kola, remarked that Emecheta’s life, experience and hardship gave her the inspiration and fortitude to write books, and noted that her ability to combine motherhood with her work was inspirational.
Participants at the event called for her books to be re-issued and a prize in literature created in her name in the country to honour her. Similarly, a call was made to establish a foundation in her name to advance literature in the country. Participants also rued the scanty documentary materials available on authors in the country and called for one on the life and times of Emecheta to be made.