On October 23, the Library celebrated the opening of the Buchi Emecheta Space, a dedicated exhibition area on the second floor. An evening reception featured short talks by the Warden, Professor Frances Corner and Head of Library Services, Leo Appleton. They welcomed the eminent editor, writer and broadcaster Margaret Busby, OBE who shared her experience of being the first to publish Buchi Emecheta’s work in Britain, holding up her copy of the first edition of The Slave Girl, featuring the photographic portrait of the author by Val Wilmer. Angelique Golding concluded the presentations with a beautiful reading from Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood that brought the power of her writing and her voice into the room.
Margaret Busby – Co-Founder, Allison & Busby, Professor Frances Corner – Warden, Goldsmiths, University of London, Leo Appleton – Director of Library Services, Goldsmiths, University of London, Jessa Mockridge – Artist & Writer, Angelique Golding – Department Business Manager, Goldsmiths University of London & student of Black British Writing.
Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta OBE (21 July 1944–25 January 2017) was a powerful and defiant Nigerian British writer, teacher, mother, librarian and ‘African feminist’. She wrote prolifically authoring over 20 books, including: Second Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979). Emecheta’s writing defies easy categorization and is relevant to many communities: Womanists read her fierce motherhood and solidarity; Feminists, her bold independence. Queer readers pick up on her community building. Anti-racist activists celebrate her great pride in her culture and blackness. She is held up as a writer of both Nigerian and Black British identity and continues to inspire contemporary postcolonial writers. Bravery, outspokenness and determination shoot through her novels, plays, autobiography, children’s literature and critical writing.
The Buchi Emecheta Space sees the under-used lobby on the Library’s 2nd floor re-fitted to provide an additional display area in Rutherford Building to show projects developed from engagement with materials held in the Library, including Special Collections and Archives. The inaugural exhibition organized by the curatorial group Present Futures (a collaboration between curators Teal Baskerville, Kathy Cho and Loren Elhili) originated as a project drawing on the Women of Colour Index in the Women’s Art Library collection held in Special Collections. The show, titled ‘Becoming an archive’ is part of an ongoing project presenting the archive as a space of becoming for women and non-binary people of colour and features a wide range of practices, represented by documents, artist multiples, publications and videos. The exhibition also features a powerful new commission from Rebecca Bellantoni who held a flagmaking workshop during Black History Month.
A plaque commemorating Buchi Emecheta is installed in the space alongside a dedication from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – ‘Buchi Emecheta. We are able to speak because you first spoke. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your art. Nodu na ndokwa.’ Jessa Mockridge initiated the project to honor Emecheta with an exhibition she co-organized with Halima Haruna, titled “comeback mother : Buchi Emecheta” (April 2018, Kingsway Corridor, Richard Hoggart Building). This exhibition was an installation inspired by visiting Buchi Emecheta’s archive, preserved by her son, Sylvester Onwordi in London. Jessa worked directly with Sylvester and coordinated colleagues Laura Elliot, Althea Greenan and Nadine Plummer (Black British Writing MA) to visit the archives of manuscripts and ephemera, borrowing a selection for study back in Goldsmiths Special Collections. The exhibition included texts selected by Anqelique and Nadine. Jessa and Halima designed the publication “comeback mother” with reproduced handwritten and type writer notes lifted directly from Buchi Emecheta’s archive. Copies were distributed at the Buchi Emecheta Space opening event and spare copies are available from Special Collections and Archives, should you like one.
The evening featured a display of Emecheta’s books that are held in the Library and a soundtrack of Nigerian popular music. The evening brought together past and current students from the MA Black British Writing course to commemorate one of the most important black women writers published in the UK alongside one of the most important black women publishers, Margaret Busby, on Elizabeth William’s invitation.
The journalist Olatoun Gabi-Williams attended and has since written an excellent article for the Borders Literature web site which was also recently published in the Guardian Nigeria.
The Buchi Emecheta Space is open to students and staff wishing to work with materials from the Library or Special Collections, especially critical projects that broaden the curriculum and maintain the spirit of Emecheta’s appeal to many communities. Email Andrew Gray, Academic Services Librarian firstname.lastname@example.org for an exhibition proposal form.