By Okechukwu Okafor
African literature has evolved over the past few years with lots of brilliant young Nigerian writers making waves in Nigeria and beyond. Some of these young writers are voracious readers who naturally develop a passion for writing from reading widely. Some are natural born writers whom writing come easily to.
Regardless of how our rising group of talented new era writers come to be, most of them look up to other young authors as role models.
For many people born in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, Adaeze Atuegwu – a teenager who became a household name when she authored and published 17 books at 17 years old in 1994, exemplified the saying that “age is just but a number” when it comes to great writing.
Atuegwu, whose first set of 17 books published in 1994-1995 sold millions of copies, is considered Nigeria’s youngest most prolific writer under 18 years old. By authoring many popular books in a short amount of time, she inspired other young writers to write.
THISDAY first met young Atuegwu on July 28, 1995 during a well-attended press conference held in her honour in Enugu Press Center, Enugu State. The young lady was presented to dozens of members of the press, and duly recognized as a child prodigy and prolific author whose books would contribute immensely to childhood literacy in Nigeria.
Atuegwu’s first novel, Fate, was published in 1994 by Fourth Dimension Publishers, also publishers of some of Chinua Achebe’s books. Atuegwu at the press conference, stated that the first draft of Fate took her less than 2 weeks to complete. Her 16 subsequent books which were all completed shortly afterwards, include five books in the popular Bina Series and six books in the Lizzy series, another childhood favorite. Both series were geared towards primary school readers. Her other books Tears, Chalet 9, My Husband’s Mistress, Adventures of Nnanna, and The Magic Leaf were all published by 1995 for older children, teenagers, and young adults readers.
The press occasion which was chaired by Mrs. Olusola Torey, the wife of the Military Administrator of Enugu State at that time, made news due to Atuegwu’s extraordinary achievement at such an early age. THISDAY’s veteran journalist at that time, Sir Abuchi Anueyiagu interviewed and reported back on the young writer who had just completed her education at University Secondary School Enugu in 1994. Atuegwu who grew up in Enugu, is also a 1989 graduate of University Primary School Enugu.
Atuegwu, born June 5, 1977 to Prince Chris and Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu, was showered with accolades at this occasion for being the first within her age bracket to author several books. Speaking to the press on that exciting day in 1995, the ex-first lady stated that “Adaeze has set a shining example which I enjoin other youths to emulate….Adaeze’s works strengthen our hope in this country for the production of indigenous authors and the development of library services”.
The then first lady also added that “the ceremony we are performing here today is one of those events that inspire our hope in the future of the youth in this country and it is a practical justification of the often-repeated statement that the youth, not only in this country but youth everywhere are leaders of tomorrow.”
When the 17-year-old Atuegwu was asked if she would continue to write after the presentation especially as she would be off to university soon afterwards, she had stated that she would write during holidays and spare moments because she wanted to be a well-known writer of inspiring works. She noted that writing was calming and therapeutic for her.
Looks like the young lady’s guardian angel was listening because Atuegwu went ahead to exceed even her own expectations. Following the presentation of her books to the press in 1995, at which time 14 of the books had been published and 3 more were in publication, Atuegwu became a household name and was frequently seen on national TV and radio. She also made headlines in many newspapers.
Atuegwu’s complete set of 17 books were subsequently released and successfully launched on May 31, 1996. THISDAY was there live to report on the mega-book launch, which was well-attended by top government officials, top private citizens, foreign embassies, international organizations, schools, parents, and children. Atuegwu’s 17 books went on to collectively sell tens of millions of copies making Atuegwu one of the youngest bestselling under-18 author in Nigeria.
One might say that Atuegwu was in the right place at the right time, but the sheer amount of hard work and discipline the 17 year-old put into her writing shows, and it did pay off.
Her books, which were exactly what the nation needed at the time, were used as reading material and textbooks in many schools for years. Some of her books were also used as WAEC and common entrance/secondary school entrance examination materials validating the fact that age is just a number when it came to good writing.
A lot of Atuegwu’s fans stated that they read and re-read her books many times for the sheer pleasure of enjoying a good story written by a talented youth.
Apart from captivating Nigerians that got to know about her, Atuegwu also captured the attention of international organizations even at that time of no internet.
Shortly after the press conference, THISDAY was present as Atuegwu presented her book to the ex-Director of United States Information Services (USIS), Mr. James Callahan in Lagos. Going down memory lane, Page 20 of our Vol.2, No 459 print edition showcased the picture of a smiling Mr. Callahan as Atuegwu officially presented her books to the director.
Few weeks later, Atuegwu also presented her books to the British Council as well as other embassies in Nigeria.
Needless to say, Atuegwu who was 17 at this time, captivated the press, not just because of her extraordinary literary accomplishments, but also because of how well she managed the publicity that came with fame at such an early age.
Atuegwu went on to win several awards and recognition from several organizations – both national and international.
She was the Rotary International Club recipient of the Award for Creativity (1994), Award for Fostering Child Development (1995), and Award for Excellence in Writing (1996). Adaeze also received an Award for Creativity from Rotaract International in 1996.
In an interview with Atuegwu in 1996 around the time of her book launch, she stated that she began to realize that she had a literary gift in primary school, and she decided to do something with it. And true to her words, Atuegwu continued on that literary path.
She was a winner of a World Health Day essay competition in 1993 even before her first book was published. She was also a contributing writer as well as student editor of her secondary school magazine, “Honour”.
In 1994, Atuegwu was adjudged as the best English language Student of her graduating set among other awards. She had gone on to complete a semester in Pharmacy School in University of Nigeria, Nsukka before leaving for the United States to continue her studies in 1996.
Atuegwu continued fulfilling her passion for writing and literature by completing a graduate degree in Creative Writing at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. She is also a graduate of University of Florida and a two-time graduate of Rutgers University in New Jersey, all in the USA.
No doubt that Atuegwu’s influence on many young minds was profound. At a time when there was limited new indigenous books for young readers, her books were a welcome relief to parents, educators, and schools who were eager for well-written books that were a true representation of our cultures and sensibilities.
Atuegwu’s books were well-received and beloved due to her writing style as well as her creative imagination. For many of her young readers, her stories seemed so real they could imagine themselves as the main character, something that is often difficult to achieve when writing for young kids.
A look at the comments fans have left on Atuegwu’s Facebook and Instagram pages show that some of her young readers grew up with a passion for writing after reading her books.
Many of them cite Atuegwu as someone who made a huge impact in their decision to become an author. This is of course telling of how much she influenced young readers and subsequently writers, some who incidentally, were just a few years younger than her when she first published her books.
Perhaps Ever Obi, the young gifted author of Men Don’t Die and Some Angels Don’t See God, summarizes Atuegwu’s influence on young writers best. In one of his recent interviews, Obi stated that he never wanted to be a writer, never thought that he could be one until his sister introduced him to the works of Adaeze Atuegwu. According to him, because Atuegwu was so young at the time she wrote the books, her works made him realize that young people could write too. And he made good on his words because his debut novel, “Men Don’t Die” a 350-page novel was dedicated to Atuegwu… saying “for Adaeze Atuegwu…in whose works and writings, I found my childhood muses.”
Like Ever Obi, some other writers have looked up to Atuegwu as a role model on their path to becoming authors.
Very few young writers are fortunate enough to pave the way for others. Very few writers under 18-year-old have become role model for generations of upcoming writers. Atuegwu by recognizing her talent at an early age and applying herself, contributed immensely to the recognition that young people do have a lot to say, and they will say it if given the chance.
Surely, age is nothing but a number when it comes to writing and creativity. This is evident in the many young talented award-winning writers that Nigeria, Africa, and the world has so far, produced.
Adaeze Atuegwu remains a legend among her fans as they have made clear on her social media pages. Her books will forever remain classics. Her contribution to advancing writing and authorship especially among young writers, will always be priceless.
*Okafor writes from Enugu