Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta is a renowned Nigerian novelist who has published over twenty books, including Second-Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979). Her works deal with themes such as female independence, feminism, motherhood, child slavery and freedom through education. She has won several awards for her writing.
Emecheta was born on July 21, 1944, to Igbo parents in Yaba, Lagos. Her parents both died when she was very young and she was adopted by relatives. Emecheta attended the Methodist Girls' High School until she was sixteen years old, at which point she married Sylvester Onwordi, the man to whom she had been engaged since the age of eleven.
In 1962, shortly after Emecheta gave birth to her first two children, she travelled to London to join her husband where he had gone to study. She worked as a library officer at the British Museum from 1965 to 1969 but eventually gave up her job to take care of her children after the arrival of three more. It was an unhappy and sometimes violent marriage, especially because her husband was indifferent to her writing.
The limit was reached when her husband, instead of reading through the manuscript of her first major work, The Bride Price, burnt it. Emecheta left her husband and found herself a single mother at the age of twenty-two who struggled hard to support herself, her children, and her drive to become a writer. While working to support her five children, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology at the University of London. She went on to serve as a youth worker and sociologist for the Inner London Education Authority.
She began writing about her experiences of Black British life in a regular column for the New Statesman, and a collection of these pieces were fodder for her first published book, In the Ditch (1972). The semi-autobiographical book 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. Second-Class Citizen, her second novel published two years later, also drew on Emecheta's personal experiences, and both books were eventually published in one volume as Adah's Story.
Over the years, Emecheta's fiction has focused on sexual politics and racial prejudice, and is largely based on her own experiences as both a single parent and a black woman living in Britain. Although her writing has stirred up much controversy among African readers and critics, American and European critics regard Emecheta as one of Africa's most eloquent feminists. To date, she has published sixteen works of fiction and non-fiction. Her other novels include Destination Biafra (1982), set during the civil war in Nigeria; The Rape of Shavi(1983), an allegorical account of European colonisation in Africa; Gwendolen (1989), the story of a young West Indian girl living in London; and Kehinde (1994), about a middle-aged Nigerian wife and mother who returns to Nigeria after living in London for many years. Her most recent work of fiction, The New Tribe, was published in 2000. Her television play, A Kind of Marriage, was first screened by the BBC in 1976. Her works for children and young adults include Nowhere to Play (1980) and The Moonlight Bride (1980). She has written an autobiography entitled Head Above Water (1986) and is also a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian.
Emecheta has travelled widely as a visiting professor and lecturer. From 1972 to 1979 she visited several American universities, including Pennsylvania State University; Rutgers University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. From 1980 to 1981, she was a senior resident fellow and visiting professor of English at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. In 1982, she lectured at Yale University and the University of London, and also held a fellowship at the University of London in 1986. From 1982 to 1983 Emecheta, together with her journalist son Sylvester, ran the Ogwugwu Afor publishing company which was based in London (where she lives).
In 1979, The Slave Girl won the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award for Commonwealth Writers. In 1983, she was included on Granta's inaugural list of the Best of the Young British Novelists, alongside writers such as Salman Rushdie,Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. Since 1979 she has been a member of the Home Secretary's Advisory Council on Race, and she was a member of the Arts Council from 1982 to 1983. In 1992, Emecheta was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature from Farleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. She was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 2005.