Florence Nkiru Nwapa, was a Nigerian author who has been called the mother of modern African Literature. Her book Efuru is the first book written by an African woman, to be published internationally.
Flora Nwapa achieved international recognition, with her first novel Efuru, published in 1966 by Heinemann Educational Books. She was best known for recreating life and traditions from an Igbo woman’s viewpoint.
One of her objectives was to “inform and educate women all over the world, especially Feminists about the role of women in Nigeria, their economic independence, their relationship with their husbands and children, their traditional beliefs and their status in the community as a whole”.
Nwapa was born in Oguta, in Enugu, Nigeria. The eldest of six, Flora Nwapa attended school in Oguta, Secondary School at Elelenwa in Port Harcourt and CMS Girls School, Lagos. She gained admission into University College, Ibadan in 1953 and earned a (B.A) degree. After that, she went to Scotland, where she earned a Diploma in Education from Edinburgh University in 1958.
After returning to Nigeria, Nwapa joined the Ministry of Education in Calabar as an Education Officer until 1959. She then took employment as a teacher at Queen’s School in Enugu, where she taught two subjects English and Geography from 1959 to 1962 and as Assistant Registrar, University of Lagos from 1962 to 1967.
Nwapa’s first book, Efuru, was published in 1966 and is considered a pioneering work as an English-Language novel by an African woman writer. Flora had sent the transcript to the famous Nigerian author Chinua Achebe in 1962, who replied with a very positive letter and even included money for the postage to mail the manuscript to the English publisher, Heinemann.
The book was published four years later as number 26 in Heinemann’s African Writers Series, making it the first book written by a Nigerian woman, in fact, any African woman, to be published internationally.
The book is about Efuru, an Igbo woman who lives in a small village in colonial West Africa. Throughout the story, Efuru wishes to be a mother, 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 cultural work.
Efuru was followed by the other novels such as Idu (1970), Never Again (1975), One is Enough (1981), and Women are Different (1986). She published two collections of stories – This is Lagos (1971) and Wives at War (1980) – and the volume of poems, Cassava Song and Rice Song (1986).
In the year 1974, she founded Tana Press, and in 1977 the Flora Nwapa Company, publishing her own adult and children’s literature as well as works by other writers.
Flora Nwapa’s Tana Press has been described as “the first press run by a woman and targeted at a large female audience.
Nwapa is also known for her governmental work in reconstruction after the Biafran War, in particular, she worked with orphans and refugees who were displaced during the war.
Flora had three children with her husband, Chief Ggo Nwakuche, a very successful businessman who later married several other women. She was greatly criticised for staying in the marriage, but it was later deduced from her other book that she remained in the marriage because she wanted her children to grow up in the presence of a father figure.
On October 16 1993, Flora passed away in Enugu, Nigeria at the age of 62 after battling with Pneumonia. Before she died, she gave her last novel The Lake Goddess to a friend to help publish. The book was posthumously published in 2017 under her own Tana Press.