Atuegwu: A legendary contribution to children’s books in Nigeria

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BY OKECHUKWU OKAFOR

Many talented writers have contributed significantly to the development of indigenous Nigerian books over the years and their works are irreplaceable in our memories and libraries.

However, of all the great writers Nigeria has produced and will continue to produce, Adaeze Atuegwu stands out as the 17-year-old teenager who took the country by storm on May 31, 1996, when her seventeen books were published. written in 8 months. at the age of seventeen, were started in Enugu, Enugu State.

Those who were around in the 90s and 2000s might remember that famous slogan for the book launch “17 pounds at 17” which caused a stir in the media for a while.

The historic launch of the Atuegwu mega-book was attended by the highest public and private dignitaries, royal fathers, international organizations, embassies, consulates, churches, schools, including heads of primary, secondary and academics, parents, students and the media. At launch, Atuegwu was described by many as “Nigeria’s youngest and most prolific writer”, and for good reason too.

Atuegwu, born June 5, 1977 to Prince Chris and Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu, grew up in Enugu, Enugu State. She attended Von Nursery School, University Primary School and University Secondary School – all in Enugu. She also spent a semester at the University of Nigeria’s Nsukka School of Pharmacy before moving to the United States in 1996 to continue her education.

His first book “Fate” was published in 1994 by Fourth Dimension Publishers, publishers of Chinua Achebe’s iconic books. “Fate” was so well received that before his 18th birthday in 1995, Atuegwu had written and published sixteen additional books including “Tears”, “The Adventures of Nnanna”, “Chalet 9”, “The Magic Leaf”, “My Husband’s Mistress”, the “Bina Series” (5 books) and the “Lizzy Series” (6 books).

A discussion of writers who have contributed immensely to the growth of indigenous Nigerian books in Nigeria, especially books for children and young adults, would be incomplete without examining how Atuegwu has added much needed value to our libraries and encouraged other young writers to do the same. .

In fact, Atuegwu can be said to have been the forerunner of the new era of talented young Nigerian writers who have made a name for themselves in various parts of the world and in different genres.

At a well-attended media press conference held on July 28, 1995 on behalf of the author and chaired by the First Lady of Enugu State, Mrs. Olusola Torey, the first lady to introduce the teenage author to members of the media and the rest of the world, described the young writer as “a genius who deserved to be emulated by other young people”, further stating that “Atuegwu’s works strengthen our hope in this country for the production of indigenous authors and the development of library services”. She echoed those same sentiments about a year later at the launch of Atuegwu’s book.

(Late) Major General Sam Momah, Minister of Science and Technology at the time, described Atuegwu “as a talented young child who had selflessly devoted her time to writing indigenous books that will contribute to reduce foreign spending on educational materials” during a speech he gave at the launch of the young writer’s book.

Today we revisit the legacy of Atuegwu’s impact on indigenous books in Nigeria and the African continent.

One thing that stands out about Atuegwu and his writings during this period is that most of the books read by teenagers his age are set in the Western world. Atuegwu would have been exposed to a lot of Western literature for leisure reading. Perhaps that is why she has set her fiction books in Nigeria, challenging the status quo and adding authenticity to her writing.

It worked exceptionally well because its culturally appropriate books came at a time when Nigeria desperately needed new fiction books by indigenous writers to add to our existing collection of classics written by icons like Chinua Achebe, Ifeoma Okoye, Buchi Emecheta, Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, Mable Segun and many more.

Atuegwu’s engaging and relevant books, primarily written for children and young adults, captured the market segment of voracious young readers (and eager parents) who sought higher quality books that portrayed Nigerian and African sensibilities.

Mr. Victor Okoro, the Youth and Sports Commissioner of Enugu at the time, was present at the book launch and during his speech confirmed that “Atuegwu books came at a time when the country was facing a shortage of books”.

Abia State Commissioner for Education, Ms. Nwankwo, who was present at the book launch, announced the state’s decision to immediately integrate the Atuegwu books into their primary and secondary school curriculum , thus opening the doors to other states.

Unsurprisingly, Atuegwu’s books were quickly adopted as textbooks and literary materials in many primary, secondary and tertiary institutions across the country for so many years. His books have formed the basis of several examinations including Common Entrances, Secondary School Admission Tests, Junior WAEC, Senior WAEC and other critical examinations in the country’s education system.

Her books became hugely popular and collectively sold millions of copies, making her one of Nigeria’s best-selling authors. Atuegwu could very well be one of the youngest (under 18) best-selling authors Africa has ever produced if you consider the number of collective books she has sold.

Several factors have contributed to making Atuegwu’s books popular with children and young adult readers. One of the most important factors would be his age at the time of the first publication – 17 years old. She achieved so much at such an early age that she naturally became a household name in the 90s and early 2000s. Since her seventeen books were used in schools across the country for so many years, popularity was inevitable.

Another apparent contributing factor was that since Atuegwu wrote these books when she was a child herself, she might have unknowingly captured some of that childhood innocence in her books in a way that her young readers could understand and appreciate.

Writing for children and young adults can be psychologically challenging. They say it takes one to know one. At 17, Atuegwu was about the same age as some of her characters and readers, so the way she thought or acted wouldn’t have been too far off from how her readers or fictional characters did.

This similarity in age gave Atuegwu a natural competitive advantage that created a unique bond between the author, his readers, and his characters. Readers find it easier to relate to authors who can imitate their own true experiences thus Atuegwu’s vocabulary (although definitely advanced for his age), characters, tone and voice appealed to his readers.

Another factor is the quality of Atuegwu’s writing. On their own merit, the books at the time of publication have been critically reviewed by the media as well as independent literary experts and received high accolades.

At the time of the launch, Professor Paul Modum, Head of Department of Foreign Languages ​​and Literature, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), who was live at the launch, also echoed the sentiments of the media, stressing the high quality books. during his speech.

Atuegwu’s contribution to indigenous books for children and young adults was duly recognized early in his career. A few of his awards, particularly from Rotary and Rotaract International, include awards for “Fostering Child Development” in 1995.

Considering that Atuegwu was only 17 at the time, awards like this underscored the depth of his contribution to children’s and young adult literature in Nigeria.

Other Atuegwu accolades include awards for ‘Creativity’ (1994 and 1996) and ‘Excellence in Writing’ (1996) – also from Rotary International. She was also the winner of an essay contest for World Health Day in 1993.

Atuegwu’s books also had a depth and freshness that could not be ignored. Its characters and plots were lovable, relatable, and engaging. Some of its main characters like Bina in its Bina series later inspired a popular haircut, the Bina haircut, in the 90s and 2000s. Its settings were realistic, relatable and imaginable.

Years later, Atuegwu, still a household name, is a legend to so many readers, especially his social media fans who are nostalgic for his books. His fans make it clear that they want his books for themselves and their children because of their authenticity and the impact the books had on them growing up.

A quick look at the comments on his social media pages shows how Atuegwu’s books have shaped the lives of thousands of young readers, increased their vocabulary, boosted their reading confidence, fueled their love for literature, created funny memories for them and had an impact on their lives.

Many amazing young authors openly attribute their passion for writing to Atuegwu, including a talented young writer, Ever Obi, who dedicated his first published novel, “Men Don’t Die”, a 350-page novel to Atuegwu. Obi says in the opening pages of his book “for Adaeze Atuegwu…in whose works and writings, I have found my childhood muses.”

Atuegwu is not only Nigeria’s most prolific youngest author, but also a talented young writer who has made a significant contribution to indigenous children’s and young adult literature in Nigeria and Africa, and in such a short time. Its influence on indigenous literature, seventeen books to be exact, added to the shortlist of excellent books written specifically for Nigerian and African children and young adults, by a writer from the African continent, at the time we we needed it the most.

Opinions expressed by contributors are strictly personal and do not belong to TheCable.


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