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

Adaeze Atuegwu: A legendary contribution to children’s books in Nigeria
August 02
16:11 2022

BY OKECHUKWU OKAFOR

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

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

Those who were around in the nineties and 2000s might remember that famous slogan for the book launch “17 Books at 17” which was a media sensation for some time.

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

Atuegwu, born on June 5th, 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 in University of Nigeria Nsukka pharmacy school before leaving for the United States in 1996 to continue her education.

Her first book “Fate” was published in 1994 by Fourth Dimension Publishers, publishers of iconic Chinua Achebe’s books. “Fate” was so well-received that before her 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).

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

In fact, one can say that Atuegwu was the forerunner of the new era of young talented Nigerian writers who had gone on to make a name for themselves in various parts of the world and in different genres.

At a well-attended media press conference held on July 28th, 1995 on behalf of the author and chaired by the first lady of Enugu State then, Ms. Olusola Torey, the first lady in presenting the teenage author to members of the media and the rest of the world, described the young writer as “a genius who was worth of emulation by other youngsters” 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 these same sentiments about a year later at Atuegwu’s book launch.

(Late) Major General Sam Momah, the minister of Science and Technology at that time, described Atuegwu “as a young talented child who had selflessly dedicated her time to writing indigenous books that will help to cut down on foreign expenditure on educational material” during a speech he made at the young writer’s book launch.

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

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

This worked out exceptionally well because her culturally appropriate books came at a time when Nigeria desperately needed some new fiction books from 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 relatable books, primarily written for children and young adults, captured the market segment of voracious young readers (and eager parents) who were looking for more high-quality books that depicted Nigerian and African sensibilities.

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Mr. Victor Okoro, the Commissioner for Youths and Sports in Enugu at that time, was present at the book launch, and during his speech, confirmed that “Atuegwu’s books came at a time when the country was facing a scarcity of books.”

Abia State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Nwankwo who was present at the book launch, announced the state’s decision to immediately incorporate Atuegwu’s books into their primary and secondary school curriculum, thereby opening up the gates for more states to follow.

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Not surprising, Atuegwu’s books were quickly adopted as textbooks and literature material in many of the nation’s primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions for so many years. Her books formed the basis for several examinations including common entrances, secondary school admission tests, Junior WAEC, senior WAEC, and other critical examinations across the nation’s educational system.

Her books became widely popular and collectively went on to sell millions of copies, making her one of Nigeria’s best-selling authors. Atuegwu may very well be one of the youngest (under-18) bestselling author Africa has ever produced when the sheer number of collective books she has sold is taken into consideration.

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

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

Writing for children and young adults can be a psychologically challenging task. They say it takes one to know one. At 17 years old, Atuegwu was about the same age as some of her characters and readers, so the way she thought or acted would not have been too far removed from the way her readers or fictional characters did.

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

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

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

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

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

Atuegwu’s other awards include awards for “Creativity” (1994 and 1996) and “Excellence in Writing” (1996) – also from Rotary International. She was also a winner of a 1993 World Health Day essay competition.

Atuegwu’s books also had depth and freshness that could not be ignored. Her characters and storylines were lovable, relatable, and engaging. Some of her main characters like Bina in her Bina series went on to inspire a popular haircut, Bina haircut, in the nineties and 2000s. Her settings were realistic, relatable, and imaginable.

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

A quick look at the comments on her social media pages reflects how Atuegwu’s books shaped thousands of young readers’ lives, increased their vocabulary, built their confidence in reading, nurtured their love for literature, created fun memories for them, and impacted their lives.

Many amazing young authors openly attribute their passion for writing to Atuegwu including a young talented 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 found my childhood muses.”

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



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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