Look around you. Today, the world celebrates Chimamanda Adichie, Beyonce Knowles and Michelle Obama as contemporary feminists. However, for many students of literature, you cannot separate feminism from the works of many African women writers. Name them, Buchi Emecheta, Efua Sutherland and Mariama Ba, all have written around women and their stake in the patriarchal African setting. But the first woman to ever write a published work of literature in Africa is Flora Nwapa and is deservedly referred to as the First Lady of letters. Her most celebrated work which is incidentally her debut novel, Efuru was published in 1966 by Heinemann, London in the African Writers Series. It was all the impetus other African women writers needed to turn their imagination into readable narratives.
Nwapa was the first to expose the nature of the African woman to the world; her ordeals in marriage and societal expectations. The plot tells of an Igbo woman, Efuru who lives in a small village in colonial West Africa. She desires to bear a child and has the ill fortune of being married twice to two men with polygamous mindset. Although the book is 50 this year, the thematic content of independent woman, marital infidelity and belief in the supernatural powers in Efuru makes it very relevant in our time. Spinning the time backwards, Efuru was in the reading list in secondary schools as well as tertiary institutions where literature is taught. But lately, Efuru has become extinct. But to celebrate the iconic work, the only son of the respected writer, Uzoma Nwakuche who is the Chairman, Flora Nwapa Foundation has recently announced that a coordinated series of activities are lined up to mark the golden anniversary of this inspiring work.
At the Literamed Publications Building, Ikeja, a press conference was held to inform the public that Efuru , the pioneering novel would be celebrated in four cities namely, Lagos, Abuja, Maiduguri, Enugu as well as the writer’s hometown, Oguta. The buzz has been on social media but the effect is incomparable to the nolstagic feeling at the sight of an old copy of the book placed on the table to evoke fond memories.
The coordinator and promoter, Efuru at 50, Prince Paschal N. Mebuge-Obaa II, explained the choice of the locations for the celebrations.
“The relevance of Enugu in this celebration cannot be over-emphasised. This is to appreciate the fact that Flora Nwapa taught English and Geography at Queens School, Enugu in 1960s and nurtured her God-given talents as a novelist and publisher in Enugu before moving to Lagos. She was thrice appointed Commissioner in quick succession at Enugu, the capital of East Central, where she worked and eventually died in 1993,” he said.
Nwapa was also an assistant registrar at the University of Lagos between 1962 and 1964 and a visiting Professor at the University of Maiduguri. The Chairman, National Organising Committee, Dr. Wale Okediran gave an insight into the activities surrounding the celebrations which include discourse and paper presentations, symposia, children’s carnival, writing competitions, drama sketches from Efuru as well as the Grand Finale which will be held in Enugu and Oguta.
“A major aspect of the National Event is the literary competition among secondary school students in the four centres. Copies of Efuru will be given to these students to read for one month before the day of the Literary Competition. The competition will involve a quiz, reading comprehension and one-act dramatic enactment of any part of the book by participating schools,” he said, adding that the submission of abstracts will commence in September and the deadline for the submission of the academic papers is October.
The theme for the national conference is which will take place in the five cities is “Efuru @50: A Celebration of Flora Nwapa and African Women Literature’’.
“The conference will also be celebrating the pioneering work of Africa’s first published female author as well as the achievements, friendships, partnerships and challenges of African Women Literature this past 50 years. The conference will be a platform for writers, scholars, literary critics and other interested parties to engage, rethink and propose possible new directions for African women literature. It will also answer questions about women’s contribution to the African literature, the Diaspora’s influence on African literature and the extent to which the same has been influenced by the current global trends,’’ he said. For Nwapa’s son, Uzoma remembering his mother through her literary masterpiece is the least one can do in honour of the woman of firsts. Nwapa was omitted from the list of the honoured Nigerians during the centenary celebrations. Her son pledged to keep her memory alive in spite of the national omission.
“I was breast-fed for two years by my mother even while she was in public service. Though she was a public figure, she was a mother. I knew her more as a mother than as a writer. She inculcated a great sense of tolerance and balance and I admire her way of dealing with people and things,” he said.
The Flora Nwapa Foundation will focus on women, promoting women literature, financial independence and entrepreneurial skills. In future, a Flora Nwapa centre would be established to serve as a hub for women writers.