Gracy Ukala: Spotlighting An Underrated Author of Women/Girl Empowerment Fiction

An African tale of action, drama, tradition and superstitious beliefs is a recipe for a masterpiece. Gracy Ukala did a phenomenal job of combining these in the children’s novel, Dizzy Angel. Perhaps the most unforgettable scene of the story was when Ogbanje describes making herself faint to teach the non-relenting tutor a lesson. A literal dizzy angel, Ogbanje was an endearing heroine compellingly portrayed by Ukala. Ogbanjes had been a part of the African worldview; the literal translation in Igbo is a child who comes and goes. The Yorubas call this child an abiku.

Ukala’s first novel (1985)

‘What is it like to be an Ogbanje, a presumptive regenerative spirit-child?’ was a question Grace Ukala raised in the mind of readers. In this stunning novel and exploration of self-determination and preordained destiny, Ogbanje was pronounced doomed from birth, the telling mark on her face announcing her as an evil child to all who saw her. She had been born several times to the same mother, Obiageli. Each time she was born, she lived only a few months, died, and reincarnated soon after.

To reverse this ill fate and avoid her untimely death, Ogbanje’s father, Dolise and Obiageli got an injunction to get her married to a juju priest, a man older than her father. Ogbanje carved her reality in Christian spirituality, ran away from home, defying traditions. She chose her destiny and decided to live free of predetermined events and the prescriptions of her parents.

In this tale of female liberation, Gracy Ukala launched against cultural prescriptions and repression of women. Although a case can be made for her sustaining Eurocentric views of African traditional beliefs, Ukala webbed a tale of influence on female agency in education and marriage, cultural and religious hybridity, childlessness, and motherhood.

Dizzy Angel was Gracy Ukala’s first novel, published in 1985. Ukala reveals that the book won an award in that year for the “best novel for portraying the Nigerian traditional and Western values and their intermingling conflicts.” Likewise, the West Africa Magazine in London referred to the book as “thrilling, enthralling and full of suspense”.

Born on April 19, 1946, Gracy Ukala, was born to Godwin and Beatrice Ukala in Mbiri. She studied for a Bachelors degree (BA), Masters of Education (MEd) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in University of Ibadan, University of Benin and University of Lagos, respectively.  A prolific educator from 1970-2002, Ukala is the founding principal of Emotan College, Benin, serving from 1980 to 1990. She was head of the English Department at Geoffrey Chaucer School in London from 1990 to 1995. She was also head of the communications faculty at the Eastlea Community School in London from 1996 to 2000, and manager of the learning support unit at the Bow Boys School in London from 2000 to 2002.

From 1999 to 2001, Ukala was president and founder of Ethnic Minority Education and Cultural Enrichment Services. A compelling writer of several titles, Ukala has also contributed articles, short stories and poetry to various publications, including the Nigerian Observer. From 1974 to 1984, she wrote broadcast scripts for the Nigerian national broadcaster, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). Ukala, formerly Mrs Osifo, currently lives in the United Kingdom after her early retirement from education in 2002. Since that year, she runs her own company, Goldsparkle Consulting Sevices, an FSA regulated Mortgage Advisory Firm based in Stratford, London.

Ukala’s other full-length titles include The Broken Bond (2001) and Ada in London- Surviving the Traumas (2005). The former is a romance novel and bildungsroman which tells the tale of eighteen-year-old Belinda, who from the beginning of her life has struggled against the immorality, oppressions and crime prevalent in the Nigerian society she lives in. Having lost her mother, and living with a father who was a drunk, Belinda’s only option for survival seemed to be prostitution. She, however, chose not to play into this socially constructed script and ended up being a rice seller. In poverty, Belinda sought for truth and spiritual development, choosing to marry her young lover rather than accept Chief Ojo’s transactional marriage offer.

The latter, described by African Echoes as an essential story for women of African descent living in the United Kingdom, is a novel about Ada who succumbs to her husband, Fred’s pressure to leave Nigeria and travel to London to work and save the family from financial disgrace. Fred had lost a substantial amount of borrowed money. Ada was compelled to leave her home, six children, and a beloved career, even as she feared that such separation would rip apart their family. In a tale of trauma, loss, failure and eventual success, this novel is a story of a woman singlehandedly striving to save her family’s honour. Ada finds solace in God and comes to a full awareness of her rights as a woman.

Aside being a novelist who has served her readers with thrilling works of fiction that explore essential elements of feminism, women’s liberation, and traditions interwoven with the Christian faith, Ukala is also a poet in her own right. In her contribution to an anthology of New Nigerian Verse (1985), Ukala’s seven poems varied from conversations to sonnets and odes, all of which reflected different mysteries and paradoxes of life. Perhaps, due to her few works or the limited reach of her titles, Ukala is not as celebrated as her contemporaries. Nevertheless, Dizzy Angel, once an examination text in Nigeria for Secondary School students up to age 14, remains an unforgettable, timeless legacy of this expert storyteller.

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