Adaeze Atuegwu took Nigeria by storm when she published seventeen books at 17 years old in 1994 and 1995, easily establishing herself as Nigeria’s youngest most prolific bestselling author in the nineties and early 2000s. However, being a writer was not a specific goal she had set out to achieve 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 by Ella have sold millions of copies, yet she never planned to be a writer. Growing up in Enugu, writing was just another hobby, one that was not meant to be a full-time career. Instead, she imagined herself as a pharmacist, a lawyer, a magazine publisher, and maybe, even an explorer.
Born on June 5th, 1977, to parents who are both pharmacists, Atuegwu is a graduate of University Primary and University Secondary Schools, Enugu State. Similar to both her parents of her, she has a bachelor’s and a doctorate degree in pharmacy from Rutgers University, New Jersey (2002); a master’s in Medication Therapy Management from the University of Florida (2014). However, “once a writer, always a writer” as Atuegwu also has a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University (2008) – all in the USA.
So, how did Atuegwu make history as Nigeria’s youngest most prolific writer at 17? During a press conference held on Atuegwu’s behalf of her in Enugu in 1995, Atuegwu stated “that she had so many ideas in her head of her that she begged to be written somewhere.” She started writing from around 10 years old when she realized that her 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 years old at that time. Her second book of hers, “Tears,” was written in about the same time, and within 8 months, she had written and published a total of seventeen books.
A mega book launch of her seventeen books was held in Enugu in 1996 and was attended by high-ranking public and private dignitaries including representatives from the presidency, many governors, ministers, heads of schools, educators, embassies/consulates, business moguls, educators , royal fathers, churches, parents, and students.
Atuegwu’s books, which were indigenous and relatable, came at a time Nigeria was struggling with limited indigenous books. The books were so well-received and quickly adopted as textbooks and literature material in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions across the nation. They were also used as examination materials in many education and exam boards.
Writing as a teenager, especially in the nineties when most published writers were adults, must have posed some unique challenges including proving that her books were worth reading and on the same literary level as those written by older writers of those times. Her books by her had to stand on their own merit. Atuegwu’s books passed the test with flying colors because her works were extensively and critically reviewed by many institutions including English departments in universities. Her books by Ella depicted high academic and moral values, as well as her disciplinary commitment to excellent writing even at 17 years old.
The teenage writer went on to receive several recognitions and awards from foreign consulates and embassies in Nigeria as well as from international organizations such as Rotary and Rotaract International which gave her awards for Creativity (1994 and 1996), Fostering Child Development (1995), and Excellence in Writing (1996). Atuegwu was also a winner of a 1993 World Health Day essay competition, a year before she even wrote her first book about her.
For someone who never planned to be a writer, Atuegwu is prolific. She stated that one of the most critical things about writing for her was getting her characters from her right. As a young writer, she frequently named her characters de ella after people she knew, especially her de ella immediate family members like siblings and cousins. This helped to keep her grounded although that was where the resemblance ended. In the end, though, the composite characteristics, attitudes, behaviour, and everything else that make each individual character in her book unique, was always fiction.
Atuegwu’s parents, Prince Chris, and Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu, during her 1996 book launch recounted her 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. Unknown to her parents, she had been secretly writing a book over the past two weeks and that project ultimately culminated to “Fate,” her first published book, just as she turned seventeen. Her parents de ella followed through on their promise to contact a publisher and the rest is history.
Atuegwu’s books, primarily written for children, teenagers, and young adults, fall into a few genres – children’s books, magic realism (folk tales), coming of age stories, and light romance for older readers. With this expansive catalogue, Atuegwu was able to capture audiences from 5 years up to adults, making it easier for her books to appeal to a bigger group of readers, and paving the way for her to become a bestselling author.
According to her fans on social media, they love Atuegwu’s books because the characters, settings, situations, and scenes were relatable. It is easy to imagine oneself as the main character in any of Atuegwu’s book, making it engaging and interesting. Her books by Ella also impacted morals in children and young adults through relatable situations that ended with the main character becoming a better person.
For someone who did not plan to be a writer, her books are popular and well-loved. So much so that “Bina haircut” inspired by the haircut worn by Bina in the “Bina Series,” became popular in the nineties and 2000s
Atuegwu’s fans are quick to share their love and nostalgia for those beloved books on her social media pages. Fans expressed how much her books by Ella helped them read and write; how her books by her inspired them to become writers too; how much joy her books brought to them as children; and how her books of her shaped their lives generally.
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 did not meet on Instagram until 2022.
When asked about her current work in progress on her Instagram page, Atuegwu stated that she never stopped writing but prefers not to discuss her work in progress until the time is right.
For Atuegwu who never planned to be a writer but ended up being Nigeria’s youngest most prolific writer, as well as one of Africa’s bestselling authors by the sheer number of collective books she has sold, all of this must have been surreal as a teenager. It goes to show that discipline, humility, hard work, a strong support system, and belief in one’s abilities can sometimes pay off big, with no age restrictions, even when your plans dictate otherwise.