17 books at 17 but Adaeze Atuegwu never planned to be a writer

Adaeze Atuegwu took Nigeria by storm when she published seventeen books at age 17 in 1994 and 1995, easily establishing herself as Nigeria’s most prolific youngest best-selling author in the 1990s and early 1990s. 2000s. However, being a writer was not a specific goal she set for herself as a teenager.

Atuegwu’s most popular books include – “Fate”, “Tears”, “The Magic Leaf”, “The Adventures of Nnanna”, “My Husband’s Mistress”, “Chalet 9”, “The Bina Series” (5 books ) and “The Lizzy Series” (6 books). Collectively, her books have sold millions of copies, but she never planned to be a writer. Growing up in Enugu, writing was only ‘one of many hobbies that wasn’t meant to be a full-time career. Instead, she imagined herself to be a pharmacist, a lawyer, a magazine publisher, and maybe even an explorer.

Born on June 5, 1977, to pharmacist parents, Atuegwu graduated from primary and university secondary schools in Enugu State. Similar to both of her parents, she holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in pharmacy from Rutgers University, New Jersey (2002); a Masters in Drug Therapy Management from the University of Florida (2014). However, “once a writer, always a writer” as Atuegwu also holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University (2008) – all in the United States.

So how did Atuegwu make history as the youngest most prolific Nigerian writer at 17? At a press conference held on behalf of Atuegwu in Enugu in 1995, Atuegwu said “she had so many ideas in her head that just needed to be written down somewhere”. She started writing around the age of 10 when she realized that literature and writing were her favorite subjects.

Atuegwu’s first book “Fate” was written in less than two weeks in 1994 and published the same year by Fourth Dimension Publishers – also publishers of some of Chinua Achebe’s books. She was 17 at that time. Her second book, “Tears”, was written around the same time, and within 8 months she had written and published a total of seventeen books.

A mega launch of his seventeen books took place in Enugu in 1996 and was attended by high ranking public and private dignitaries including representatives of the presidency, numerous governors, ministers, school principals, educators, embassies/ consulates, business magnates, educators, royal fathers, churches, parents and students.

Atuegwu books, which were indigenous and relatable, came at a time when Nigeria was struggling with limited indigenous books. The books were so well received and quickly adopted as textbooks and literary materials in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions across the country. They have also been used as examination material in many education and examination boards.

Writing as a teenager, particularly in the 90s when most published writers were adults, must have posed unique challenges, including proving that his books were worth reading and on the same literary level as those written by older writers of the time. His books had to justify themselves. Atuegwu’s books have passed the test with flying colors because his works have been thoroughly and critically reviewed by many institutions, including university English departments. His books described high academic and moral values, as well as his disciplinary commitment to excellent writing even at age 17.

The teenage writer went on to receive several accolades and awards from foreign consulates and embassies in Nigeria as well as international organizations such as Rotary and Rotaract International which presented her with awards for creativity (1994 and 1996 ), Child Development (1995) and Writing Excellence (1996). Atuegwu was also the winner of a World Health Day essay contest in 1993, a year before she even wrote her first book.

For someone who never planned on being a writer, Atuegwu is prolific. She has stated that one of the most critical things about writing for her is getting her characters right. As a young writer, she frequently named her characters after people she knew, especially members of her immediate family like siblings and cousins. It helped her keep her feet on the ground, even though that was where the resemblance ended. Ultimately, however, the composite characteristics, attitudes, behavior, and everything else that makes each individual character in his book unique has always been fiction.

Atuegwu’s parents Prince Chris and Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu at his book launch in 1996 recounted his path to first publication. Atuegwu had asked her parents if they would forward her book to a publisher if she wrote one. She received a resounding yes. Unbeknownst to her parents, she had been secretly writing a book for the past two weeks and that project eventually resulted in “Fate”, her first book published when she was seventeen. His parents kept their promise to contact a publisher and the rest is history.

Atuegwu’s books, primarily written for children, teens, and young adults, fall into a few genres – children’s books, magical realism (folktales), coming-of-age stories, and lighthearted romance for readers older. With this vast catalog, Atuegwu was able to win over audiences from 5 years old to adults, which made it easier for his books to attract a larger group of readers and paved the way for him to become a best-selling author.

According to his fans on social media, they love Atuegwu’s books because the characters, settings, situations, and scenes were relatable. It’s easy to imagine yourself as the main character in any Atuegwu book, which makes it engaging and interesting. His books also impacted the morals of children and young adults through relatable situations that resulted in the main character becoming a better person.

For someone who never intended to be a writer, his books are popular and appreciated. So much so that the “Bina haircut” inspired by the haircut worn by Bina in the “Bina series” became popular in the 90s and 2000s.

Atuegwu fans are quick to share their love and nostalgia for these beloved books on her social media pages. Fans have expressed how his books have helped them read and write; how his books inspired them to become writers too; how much joy his books brought them when they were children; and how his books have shaped their lives in general.

In 2019, a young writer, Ever Obi, dedicated his first published novel, a 350-page book, “Men Don’t Die”, to Atuegwu even though according to his social media page, they only met on Instagram. ‘in 2022.

Asked about her work in progress on her Instagram page, Atuegwu said she never stopped writing but preferred not to discuss her work in progress until the time was right.

For Atuegwu, who never planned to be a writer but ended up being Nigeria’s most prolific youngest writer, as well as one of Africa’s best-selling authors by number of collective books he she sold out, it all must have been surreal as a teenager. It goes to show that discipline, humility, hard work, a strong support system, and confidence in your abilities can sometimes pay off big time, with no age limit, even when your plans dictate otherwise.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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