By Chris Onuoha
Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo is a lecturer, writer, novelist, critic, essayist, journalist administrator and professor of English currently teaching at the University of Lagos. One the closest associates of the late Buchi Emecheta, she, in this interview with Woman’s Own, recounts her experience with the late novelist.
Stemming from the demise of Buchi Emecheta, how could you describe her work, character and as a renowned writer the literary community globally will miss?
SHE was a very strong woman. I interviewed her once in her home in London and discovered that she is a very strong, determined and knew what she wanted and went about doing it.
She was a fine writer. She loved her family very much, her children. She was also very important in the circle she moved. She was also described as a British black writer because she lived there, apart from being an African writer. She championed the cause of British blacks there and she was given OBE by the queen.
She was a strong woman, very feminist in writing even though she described herself as a small ‘f’, a feminist to the small ‘f’. Because she believed that African feminism is different from Western feminism. The African agenda is different.
She saw herself as an African feminist. She brought recognition to African feminist writing. It was when she began to write that many critics began to write about feminist literature in Africa. She was very instrumental to developing the African women literary tradition.
As a feminist writer who in her work talks more about female independence, did we lose a rare gem in that cause?
I think we did. She was among the first writers that actually brought out the female plight in African tradition. Women’s experiences in Africa and what they are going through especially in terms of cultural tradition that subjugated women in Africa. She highlighted it in her novels – ‘the bride price’, ‘the slave girl’.
She also spoke about African women in the Diaspora. In the UK for instance, in her novel, where she translated her own personal experience. She was a spokesperson for the African woman who couldn’t have voice to alter her problems.
With the current demise of some of her contemporaries in this genre, like Flora Nwapa, Cathy Acholonu and others, is there hope for the new age?
Yes of course, these women were pathfinders, ground wetter, and there are many who are coming after them. Like Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Chika Unigwe, Uloma Azua, Promise Ogochukwu and I am also writing in that tradition. There are many of them.
But Chimamanda Adichie seems to tilt a little away from the feminism trail with her latter books after the ‘Purple Hibiscus’
No, it is not true because her book, ‘Americana’ speaks more of that. It is a story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who later migrated to UK. She goes through the experience of gender, racism and being a black person in a foreign culture. She explores the experience of African woman in the US and what she went through.
One thing about her characters is that they are often stronger. You will see these also in the ‘Half of Yellow Sun’ where you have Kainene and her sister Olanna. Feminism actually simply means the recognition of women actualized and the effort to try to change that situation. In her writing, she uses women characters which she empowers.
Even the first novel, ‘Purple Hibiscus’, you can see that kambili’s mother was a bit soft and very obedient but you can see eventually that she was reacted against her husband’s operation like killing him. We are not saying that it is the right thing to do but the thing is sometimes, when you push people the more, they react and fight back.
Strong female character
That character tells us that sometimes when somebody is high handed, you react. Kambili’s mother under normal circumstance would never have killed her husband, but she did.
Adichie creates strong women characters. Olanna is the major character in ‘Half of Yellow Sun’ and her twin sister kainene. They are both strong characters and there’s a repeat of that in ‘Americana’. Sefi Atta’s ‘Everything Good will Come’ featured another strong female character. Most of these women characters are stronger in terms of empowerment and sub consciousness.
Some of Emecheta’s women were strong too, like in the ‘bride price, slave girl, even the ‘joy of motherhood’. In her later novels, you find women who the patriarchy tried to subjugate but they try to aspire higher and empower themselves in the ‘Destination Biafra’ which is a civil war novel.
Her legacy speaks volume; what are the lessons the new generation of writers should learn from it?
One thing which Emecheta did that she will be remembered forever for is the way she inscribed women’s experience in her works. Flora Nwapa started it and Emecheta even went beyond that. Because she was so prolific, she wrote more than 20 books. She is actually the most prolific African woman writer for now.
Nobody has written as many, and she put women experience on the literary map, globally. And she was one of the first black women to receive global critical attention to her writing. Her legacy is one that many younger writers who are writing on women’s experience should explore. I think she wrote well.
How can we say her personality brings to bear in her writings?
She is one of the writers you can say wrote herself through her work. For instance, even the early writings where she didn’t use her own experience, she used her mother’s experience in the ‘Slave girl, and ‘the bride price’. In her autobiography titled; ‘Head above water’, it tells much about her life as a young teenager and childhood.
If you read the auto’ and her books, you see that there’s so much information about herself in it. Also, her book published in the UK about her personal experience. It was her experience as a British black woman, an African living in the strange land. In those two novels she recreated her personal experience. In fact, what she wrote in the “Second class citizen was about herself, how she came to UK and then experience from her husband. Even though she didn’t use her name, it is her history that she now recreated in fiction.
You find that the man in the novel is actually her husband and when I interviewed her, she said that he burnt her first manuscript the ‘the bride price’ which was her last straw that sparked her leaving with her five children. She rewrote that novel. I don’t know how many writers that can do that. Honestly, I don’t think I can be able to do a thing like that but she did.
Each of her characters are different in different books, for instance in the Second Class Citizen, you have Ada which is Emechata’s story. How she survived in London. It wasn’t easy at that time when she left her husband with five children surviving with them in a racist society for that matter. And in her war novel, she wasn’t in Nigeria when the war was fought. But she came and interviewed her people extensively in her Destination Biafra just like Adichie did in her own book. I also want to say that many writers do that also, that speaks on the aspect of their lives and transmit it in fiction.
Reading culture of the young generation is at a low ebb. What are the causes?
Many young people are distracted with many modern technologies. In the 50s, 60s & 70s, it was very easy for people to just go to library and read. And schools also encouraged students to read with many good libraries. When I was in secondary school, the competition was for you to finish the entire books in the library.