Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa was a Nigerian author who has been called the mother of modern African literature. She was the forerunner to a generation of African women writers, and was also acknowledged as the first African woman novelist to be published in the English language in Britain.
Nwapa was born in Oguta, in South-Eastern Nigeria, the eldest of the six children of Christopher Ijeoma (an agent with the United Africa Company) and Martha Nwapa, a teacher of drama.
Flora Nwapa attended school in Oguta, secondary school at Elelenwa in Port Harcourt and Lagos. At the age of 22 years she entered the university in 1953 and earned a BA degree at the age of 26 years from University College, Ibadan, in 1957. She then went to Scotland, where she earned a Diploma in Education from Edinburgh University in 1958.
She achieved international recognition, with her first novel Efuru published in 1966 at the age of 30 years by Heinemann Educational Books. While never considering herself a feminist, she is best known for recreating life and traditions from an Igbo woman’s viewpoint.
Nwapa’s first book, Efuru, was published in 1966 at the age of 30 years and is considered a pioneering work as an English-language novel by an African woman writer. She 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.
It 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). She is also the author of several books for children.
In the 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. She gave as one of her objectives: “to inform and educate women all over the world, especially Feminists (both with capital F and small f) 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”. Tana has been described as “the first press run by a woman and targeted at a large female audience. A project far beyond its time at a period when no one saw African women as constituting a community of readers or a book-buying demographic.”
At the beginning of Flora Nwapa’s literary career, as a result of the way feminism was viewed and the way it was portrayed, she had no interest in feminism because she felt it was prejudiced against men but she eventually came to terms with it. However, her struggle with feminism is representative of the present conversations about the movement in Africa and the world at large.