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FLORA NWAPA: THE FIRST NIGERIAN WOMAN WRITER AND THE FIRST AFRICAN WOMAN TO PUBLISH A NOVEL

Flora Nwapa, Global African Diaspora Development Network (GADDN) special on African Literature


"Mother, I cannot stay any more. A man said that

he has wept for the death that killed his friend

but he did not wish that death to kill him." ~ Flora Nwapa, Efuru (1966)




Professor Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa (13 January 1931 – 16 October 1993) known to her native Nigerian ndi-Igbo people as Ogbuefi Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa-Nwakuche and the world as Flora Nwapa was a great Nigerian writer (novelist), teacher, administrator, and a forerunner of a whole generation of African women writers. Flora Nwapa is best-known for re-creating Igbo life and traditions from a woman's viewpoint. With Efuru (1966) Nwapa became black Africa's first internationally published female novelist in the English language. She has been called the mother of modern African literature. Flora Nwapa described Flora in “Women and Creative Writing in Africa” about how she came to write Efuru that she enjoyed direct contact with

her culture and tradition and Efuru was actually based on her early exposure to folklore which was a direct personal contact with Oguta Lake which was near her birth place. She writes:

"…the story of Efuru struck me in a most dramatic

way as I was driving at a speed of 80 miles per

hour along Enugu-Onitsha Road. I got to my

destination, borrowed an exercise book and began

to write Efuru’s story. I wrote chapter one … and

did not stop until I finished the entire novel.(526)

She was a contemporary of the legendary Ghanaian playwright Dr Efua Theodora Sutherland (27 June 1924—2 January 1996) who published her first literary work 'Foriwa' (1962), and others such as Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975).



She has been called the mother of modern African literature. Flora Nwapa described Flora in “Women and Creative Writing in Africa” about how she came to write Efuru that she enjoyed direct contact with her culture and tradition and Efuru was actually based on her early exposure to folklore which was a direct personal contact with Oguta Lake which was near her birth place.




She writes:

"…the story of Efuru struck me in a most dramatic

way as I was driving at a speed of 80 miles per

hour along Enugu-Onitsha Road. I got to my

destination, borrowed an exercise book and began

to write Efuru’s story. I wrote chapter one … and

did not stop until I finished the entire novel.(526)

She was a contemporary of the legendary Ghanaian playwright Dr Efua Theodora Sutherland (27 June 1924—2 January 1996) who published her first literary work 'Foriwa' (1962), and others such as Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975).



But above all, her contribution to the development of women in Nigeria, nay in Africa, and throughout the world is what she will be best remembered for.”

Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa was born in 13 January 1931 at Oguta, an igbo town in eastern Nigeria, which was then a British colony. Both of her parents, Christopher Ijeoma and Martha Nwapa, were teachers. She was educated at the University of Idaban, receiving her B.A. in 1957. Nwapa continued her studies in England, earning in 1958 a degree in education from the University of Edinburgh.


After returning to Nigeria in 1959 Nwapa worked as an education officer in Calabar for a short time, and then she taught geography and English at Queen's School in Enugu. From 1962 to 1964 Nwapa was an assistant registrar at the University of Lagos. During the Nigerian Civil war, which broke out in 1967, she left Lagos with her family. Like many members of the Igbo elite, they were forced to to return to the eastern region after the end of the conflict. Nwapa served as Minister for Health and Social Welfare for the East Central State (1970-1971). Her tasks included finding homes for 2000 war orphans. Later on she worked for Commissioner for Lands, Survey, and Urban Development (1971-1974). In 1982 the Nigerian government bestowed on her one of the country's highest honors, the OON (Order of Niger). By her own town, Oguta, she was awarded the highest chieftaincy title, Ogbuefi meaning “killer of cow”, which is usually reserved for men of achievement.


" Besides writing books, Nwapa established Tana Press, which published adult fiction. It was the first indigenous publishing house owned by a black African woman in West Africa."

Appearing in 1966, Flora Nwapa`s Efuru was the first internationally published book, in English, by a Nigerian woman. Efuru is based on an old folktale of a woman chosen by gods, but challenged the traditional portrayal of women. Efuru, which Nwapa started to write in 1962. The Promised Land by the Kenyan Grace Ogot appeared also in 1966; both works were path-breakers. Nwapa sent to manuscript to her good friend Chinua Achebe in Lagos and after some editorial suggestions, Achebe sent it to Heineman Educational Books for publication in the African Writers Series (No. 56). Nwapa sets her story in a small village in colonial West Africa as she describes the youth, marriage, motherhood, and eventual personal epiphany of a young woman in rural Nigeria.


The respected and beautiful protagonist, an independent-minded Ibo woman named Efuru, wishes to be a mother. Her eventual tragedy is that she is not able to marry or raise children successfully. Alone and childless, Efuru realizes she surely must have a higher calling and goes to the lake goddess of her tribe, Uhamiri, to discover the path she must follow.

The work, a rich exploration of Nigerian village life and values, offers a realistic picture of gender issues in a patriarchal society as well as the struggles of a nation exploited by colonialism.

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