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Principal’s Message

Effort and Discipline: Work Hard and Show Perseverance
Self-knowledge: Strive for High Standards

It is a little over fifty years since Buchi Emecheta’s first novel (In the Ditch) was published. That it was published at all is a miracle of resilience and the high standards she set for herself. The first novel she wrote was called Bride Price and the only handwritten manuscript was burned by her husband after she had begged him to read it.

In March 1962, Emecheta came to the UK from Nigeria at the age of eighteen to join her husband who was five years older and studying Accounting. She already had two children, and a great dream in her heart to be a writer. On arrival though, she had to face the prevailing racism of the era, where ‘Sorry no coloureds’ would appear again and again in rental listings, and a terrible marriage – her husband not only burned her manuscript but also beat her up, was serially unfaithful and spent money on luxuries for himself whilst Emecheta and the children went without.

Supported by colleagues at the Chalk Farm library, Emecheta found the strength to leave her husband, to keep writing, and to start life as single to mother to five children. Rising at 4.30am to get three hours of writing done before the children woke and getting everybody out of the house for school and work, she began the task of realising her great dream.

There is no doubt that the support of the welfare state (she needed social housing, had a social worker, and legal aid) was a necessary step in getting her literary voice out there, against the odds, and we should be thankful for it. However, striving for independence, life on her terms and lived to her own high standards was the important thing. As her main character Adah from In the Ditch observes, “The world had a habit of accepting the way you rated yourself,” and Emecheta let the world know her worth by her bravery, self-belief and hard-won, successful career as a writer.

 

Buchi Emecheta is a great example of somebody who embodied the KEDS values of hard work, perseverance and high standards.  As you prepare to set out on your own journeys at 18, think of her courage and determination. Your own ambitions may look very different, but feed them, and remember how important hard work is – though I hope you all face many fewer barriers! (By the way, she did write Bride Price again from scratch – what a hero!)