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Flora Nwapa: Mother of modern African Literature

Sam Olukoya
May 15, 2020

The novel Efuru established Nigerian author Flora Nwapa as the first African woman to publish a book in English. Her work set the stage for the emergence of female writers in Nigeria and other African countries.

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Flora Nwapa: Mother of modern African Literature

When did Flora Nwapa live?

Flora Nwapa was born on January 13, 1931, in Oguta, Nigeria. She had her early education in Oguta, Port Harcourt and Lagos. She went to college at University College Ibadan, Nigeria, and at Edinburgh University in the UK. Nwapa died of pneumonia at the age of 62 on October 16, 1993. 

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What were the themes of Nwapa's novels?

Through her books, Nwapa sought to change the narrative of male African authors whose works were full of stereotypes about the African woman. Nwapa's books did the opposite, by telling success stories of African women. Her novels like Efuru and Idu challenged the  traditional portrayal of the African woman as one who must always live in the shadows of men because she is perceived to be docile, submissive and unproductive. 

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What are her most notable novels?

One of Nwapa's most notable novels is Efuru. It portrays a woman who empowers herself enough to financially support her husband and her father. Efuru, the protagonist, breaks anti-feminist stereotypes of traditional African society by showing she has a mind of her own. She makes some crucial decisions in her life based on what she feels is right for her, rather than bow to the demands of others. Other novels include Idu, Never Again, One Is Enough and Women Are Different

Flora Nwapa: New narratives in literature

What is the author's legacy? 

Nwapa is considered the mother of modern African literature because she was the first female writer on the continent to have her works widely published. Perhaps her most enduring legacy is the birth of contemporary Nigerian female writers who are replicating the themes of her novels in an effort to change the negative narrative of the African woman in a male-dominated literature space.

Is Nwapa a feminist?

While she is reluctant to be seen as a feminist, some of Nwapa's books are noted for advocating women's rights. In her work, she uses female characters to challenge unfair cultural practices that African women are subjected to due to widowhood and childlessness. The use of her novels to tackle unfair cultural practices against women remains an inspiration for Nigerian women's rights activists.

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Professor Lily Mafela and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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