Efuru… A four-city golden celebration of Africa’s pioneer feminist novel underway
Although Flora Nwapa was, and is still, not as celebrated as her male literary counterparts, like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and JP Clark, her novel, Efuru, became a defining and pioneering moment for feminine studies in African literary and intellectual discourse. And she scored many firsts in her short, but illustrious life. Now, 50 years after Efuru was published in 1966, the novel and its creator will be celebrated in a four-city fiesta of symposia, children’s carnival and literary competition; and drama skits.
And so, from Lagos to Abuja, Maiduguri to Enugu and Oguta, her hometown, writers and scholars will put Nwapa in her proper place of literary and feminist canon. Leading the celebration charge is her son, Mr. Uzoma Nwakuche, who has also set up Flora Nwapa Foundation (FNF) to further expose his mother’s exemplary work in literature and women advocacy.
At a press conference in Lagos last week to announce activities for the celebration, Nwakuche said, “On behalf of my siblings, Ejine Nzeribe and Amede Nzeribe, as well as Chief C.I. Nwapa and family, I announce the celebration of Efuru@50. This year, 2016, we are celebrating the novel Efuru. We are celebrating the birth of African female literature. We are celebrating African women. We are celebrating Flora Nwapa. It is long overdue; 23 years after her death, to celebrate her first book. My mother is a lady of firsts -first African female writer, first Nigeria female commissioner of East Central State and first African female to be published.
“We urge the Federal and State Governments, especially those in former East Central State to acknowledge and join us to celebrate this great African woman who served her country and pioneered modern-day African women literature in her relatively short, but extremely productive and memorable life.
“Flora Nwapa Foundation will promote her legacy, promote African women literature, encourage young, aspiring female writers and promote the essence of Flora Nwapa’s work – the dignity and economic independence of women whose roles in traditional society are, sometimes, threatened or unappreciated.”
Already, an international organising committee that also celebrated Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God@50 in 2014, led by Dr. Wale Okediran, will coordinate with Nwakuche and Prince Paschal Mebuge-Obaa in Oguta, for the celebration. All Association of Nigerian Authors local chapters in the host cities also form a bulk of the local organising committees, led by appointed chairmen.
At the briefing, Okediran said the celebration has ‘Efuru@50: A Celebration of Flora Nwapa, Pioneer of African Women Literature’ as theme. According to him, “2016 marks the golden anniversary of the publication of the novel Efuru by Flora Nwapa, published in 1966 as number 26 in Heinemann’s African Writers Series (AWS), making it the first published book by an African woman writer.”
Efuru centres on the life of Efuru, an Igbo woman, who lives in a small village in colonial West Africa. Throughout the story, Efuru wishes to be a mother, but fails though she is an independent-minded woman and respected for her trading ability. The book is rich in portrayals of the Igbo culture and of different scenarios, which have led to its current status as a feminist and cultural work.
Okediran further said, “In view of the global acceptance of the book and its author, it is imperative to celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of this very important novel with a national conference.”
In Lagos, the LOC Chairman is the Head of Department of English, University of Lagos, Prof. Hope Eghagha, while the Abuja centre will be chaired by the HOD, English, University of Abuja, Prof. Vicky Sylvester, and Dr. Razinat Mohammed, at University of Maiduguri. The grand finale in Enugu and Oguta will be coordinated by Prince Paschal Mebuge- Obaa. The choice of University of Maiduguri is predicated on the fact that Flora Nwapa was a visiting Professor at the university.
Flora Nwapa was born on January 13, 1931 in Oguta, Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria. She attended Oguta CMS Central School, Archdeacon Crowder Memorial Girls School, Elelenwo, Rivers State; CMS Girls Grammar School, Lagos, and Queens College, Yaba, Lagos in 1951-52. She then proceeded to the University College Ibadan (University of Ibadan) in 1953, where she graduated with Bachelors Degree in Art (BA) in 1957. The next year, she went to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and finished with a Diploma in education.
Upon her return to Nigeria in 1959, her initial work experience started as an educational officer in Calabar, Cross River State and later went to Queens School, Enugu, where she taught English and Geography. Between 1962 and 1964, she became the Assistant Registrar (Public Relations) at the University of Lagos. In 1965, she went into professional career in writing, which projected her and Igbo women into the international scene, when her first novel, Efuru, was published in 1966. When the Nigerian Civil War over Biafra broke out, Flora and her family fled Lagos for East Central State, and from 1970-1971, she was appointed the first female Commissioner for Health and Social Welfare for the East Central State under the leadership of Ajie Ukpabi Aska (1970-1975), with that position, she was the first Nigerian woman to be so appointed.