Buchi Emecheta and the contemporary African literary tradition
Buchi Emecheta’s first novel, In the Ditch, was published in 1972, six years after Ogot’s The Promised Land and Nwapa’s Efuru. Asked in an interview about her relationship ‘to other female writers, such as Flora Nwapa, Grace Ogot, Christina Aidoo and Bessie Head’, Emecheta described herself as ‘their new sister’ (Umeh and Umeh 25), thus acknowledging her debt to the women writers who have preceded her and placing herself within the literary tradition that has emerged with their writing. In her fiction, too, Emecheta pays tribute to her female predecessors, especially to her Igbo compatriot Flora Nwapa whom she identifies as a role model. Sometimes the acknowledgement of indebtedness is quite explicit, as in her second novel, Second-Class Citizen (1974), where the heroine Adah points to Nwapa’s success as a writer when her husband, prior to burning the manuscript of Adah’s first novel, ridicules the very idea of a black woman becoming a writer (184). Emecheta’s awareness of her membership in a literary sisterhood marks the emergence of a self-conscious female literary tradition. One of my aims in this chapter will be to highlight some of the features of this tradition.
Emecheta has had more success as a writer than any of her female predecessors. She has written eleven novels, more, in fact, than most of the men writers I examine. Her first two novels, semi-autobiographical works set mainly in London where Emecheta herself has lived since 1962, have been followed by the publication at regular intervals of nine others which are set mainly in Nigeria: The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977), The Joys of Motherhood (1979), Destination Biafra (1982), Double Yoke (1982), Naira Power (1982), The Rape of Shavi (1983), A Kind of Marriage (1986), and Gwendolen (1989). 1 She has, in addition, written an autobiography, Head Above Water (1986), as well as children’s stories and plays for television. Emecheta is also one of the few women writers who, along with Bessie Head and Mariama Bâ, has gained any degree of recognition for her writing.