The world has just suffered the sad, irreplaceable loss of a woman who willed herself into significance; a writer who literally wrote each work with blood from her veins. Husbandless and with five children at age 22, Buchi Emecheta pressed the abundance of life’s challenges into the richness of art, producing some of the most frequently cited works in contemporary African literature. From The Joys of Motherhood to Second Class Citizen, from The Bride Price to Destination Biafra, her graphically titled works deal with various aspects of African womanhood, its countless travails and repressed possibilities. Very much in the league of writers like Flora Nwapa, Ama Ata Aidoo, Mariama Ba, and Bessie Head, Emecheta played an un-ignorable role in the gendering of modern African literature and the feminist/womanist theorizing which serves as its intellectual correlative.
In ‘Feminist with a Small “f”!’, an article presented at the 1986 Second African Writers’ Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Emecheta opened the floor with the following sentence:
I am just an ordinary writer, an ordinary writer who has to write because if I didn’t write I think I would have to be put in an asylum.’ (My italics)
And later in that article, she delivers this memorable averment:
I write about the little happenings of everyday life . Being a woman and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of the African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small f. (My italics)
There goes Buchi Emecheta, the unintended feminist, a stubborn, consistent defender of woman rights who taught the world other ways of looking at gender from the African perspective. A feisty, irrepressible person not known for whispering her objection to objectionable situations, Emechetawas a true ‘natural’ who often spoke from the heart. She was here. And still is. And our world is richer through every moment of her 72 years.
New Orleans, Jan. 27, 2017