When my friend Chimee Adioha, told me about the tribute for Buchi Emecheta, I knew I was going to be there. No two ways about it. I knew Sefi Atta, Chika Unigwe and Molara Wood were all going to be there but I had no idea I was going to spend time “hanging out” with them. I was expecting this large event with lots of people, instead it turned out to be a small intimate meeting of people who deeply cared about Buchi Emecheta and her writings.
Sylvester Onwordi, her son, gave an opening remark. He mentioned that he was a character in one of his mother’s books; even though she made him female. We all laughed. Read the tribute he wrote for his mother here.
Sefi Atta read a ten minute speech she wrote for Buchi after reading from Buchi’s HEAD OVER WATER (It was in this book I learnt Buchi was clitorized at the age of 8). I will drop an excerpt of the book as seen on GRANTA:
I looked at her, too scared to say a word. We were coming to that age when we were not allowed to say everything that came into our heads. But I suspected that my cousin Jo would be in a big trouble on her wedding night. She did not say it: she did not need to. But as if to make me sorrier for her she did say, ‘You can kill a fowl and pour it on the white cloth you use on your first night with your husband.’
I shook my head. I did not know, but went on, ‘My mother said that any other blood would go pale before morning. But the real thing would always be red.’
After an uncomfortable silence, Jo said, ‘I can trim lamps. I think Christianity is better. Think of all the beatings and humiliations one would have to go through otherwise. Trimming lamps is easier.’
Jo and I were clitorized on the same day, when we were eight, because we belong to the same age group. That was now years ago, and here she was saying this.
I was asking about her the other day, twenty years after this conversation. And I was told she was a nun. Jo went into a nunnery because she probably thought God would accept girls who, by mistake or curiosity or sheer ignorance, had become rather adventurous. That it needed two people to become adventurous but that it was the girl who was penalized makes you think sometimes. But it was just this kind of adventurousness which they said clitorization was supposed to prevent. I’m not so sure. But I am sure that, even with a clitorization, I managed to have five children in five years and all before I was twenty-five. Imagine how many I would have – imagine what I’d be! – if I hadn’t had one.
According to Sefi, she reaches out to writers she admire for professional reasons and she is not one to cosy up to them. She respects their privacy and space. And when she heard that she had some health challenges, she didn’t want to pry. This part of Sefi’s tribute touched me;
Buchi Emecheta often said she saw her books as children. I don’t look at mine that way. My daughter is my child, and my books are my work, though the time I spent writing them did take away from time I could have spent with her. She is graduating from college this year, after a four-year degree. At twenty-two, she is the same age Buchi Emecheta was when she had five children and was studying sociology at London University, and writing. So, to me, Buchi Emecheta was a child bride, child mother and child divorcee, who would later become a renowned writer published in journals such as Granta and the New Statesman, with television scripts produced by the BBC and Granada.
Atta is 53 but she looks way younger than her age. There is this quiet grace to her personality. When I mentioned to her that she was calm she insisted she was not. I talked to her about Everything Good Will Come and how I wished the book ended differently – Enitan giving the marriage a second chance at least. She replied saying that she wrote EGWC when she was much younger and she knows if she were to write it now, it would have a different ending. Read my review of Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come. Read Sefi Atta’s Tribute to Buchi Emecheta Here.
Chika Unigwe IS LIFE. Her dreads. Her neck piece. Her ankara skirt. Her Shoes!!!!! Her Shoes!!!!!!
The first time Chika heard about Buchi Emecheta, her mother had sent her to an Opus Dei Center in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where they saw a documentary.
Watching the documentary left Chika amazed because she kept wondering how Buchi Emecheta combined writing in London with five children. Chika said the very fact that Buchi had five children and wrote books motivated her in her own writing journey with four kids. Chika would meet Buchi in 2004, the year Brian Chikwava won the Caine Prize.
She said “I remember meeting Buchi years ago in London (with other Caine Prize shortlisted writers Monica Arac de Nyeko, Brian Chikwava, Parselelo Kantai and Doreen Baingana) and the conversation turned to the whys of our writing. A journalist asked if we wrote for the love of writing or for money. And we all said for the love of it of course. Buchi gave us an earful. She was Livid ‘You don’t hear journalists say they do their jobs for the love of it! There is nothing wrong with making money from writing! It’s a job like any other! Especially you women! you must make money from your writing’ (Or something along those lines) She taught me the very valuable lesson that pursuing your passion and making money from it are not mutually exclusive.”
Molora wood also spoke and read few pages from THE JOY’S OF MOTHERHOOD. A very hot sex scene. Molora Wood would later go on to say that most female writers of Buchi’s time were ignored by the media because the male editors and journalists wrote about the male writers, ignoring the female writers. She also said something very important; BUCHI EMECHETA IS NOT THE VICTIM. She took whatever life threw at her and turned it into something beautiful.
After the book reading, individuals were asked to give their tributes. I was most captivated by an elderly woman who brought all of Buchi’s books from 1981. It was completely emotional. Someone said she just heard about Buchi after she died and read a tribute. Another said Buchi reminded her of her grandmother in Ibuza.
Toni Kan, author of The Carnivorous City told a story of how Buchi contributed to Helon Habila winning the Caine Prize in 2001 where she served as a judge. And a certain author out of anger SPAT ON HER. Nick Elam, Administrator of the Caine Prize from 1999 to 2011, recalls: “Buchi did not reveal her preference for Helon as winner, for fear of its being discounted as mere partisanship in favour of the Nigerian candidate, but she let out an explosive ululation when it became clear the decision was going his way.”
Personally, I am forever indebted to Buchi Emecheta and other great women in African Literature who have crashed through glass ceilings so people like me will enjoy smooth landing.
Buchi Emecheta was a strong woman, I am learning to make the best out of my expereinces; good or bad. Just like KING WOMAN BUCHI EMECHETA.
May her soul continue to Rest in Peace.
Love and Light
Chimdinma Adriel Onwukwe.