A Nigerian princess sits at Baked on East Bay Street with a cup of coffee and an untouched sandwich in front of her. She has intense eyes, flawless skin, and plump, plum-colored lips. Her hair is a cut into a short afro. But she's not wearing tribal gowns, and she doesn't have any power in Nigeria today. She's dressed in a pretty gray blouse and jeans with bold earrings. She's a CPA, a lawyer, and now, a published author.
I'm meeting with Jacqueline Maduneme, born Jacqueline Chinyelu Nwamaka Ikeji, to discuss Ada's Daughter, her memoir of abuse and incest at the hands of her father, her attempted suicide, and her path to salvation and, ultimately, success. It begins in Igboland in Eastern Nigeria, where Maduneme's father was prime minister of their village, second in command to the king, or igwe. The story follows her as she moves through life seeking love and redemption.
Today, Maduneme is a professor at the Charleston School of Law and an entrepreneur with her own publishing company. Laid off from a financial position in New York in 2008, she found herself at yet another crossroads. "I started thinking about what I want to do with my life," she says, "and what I wanted to do next was tell stories." She packed up and relocated to be with her fiancé in Charleston, where she wrote the first draft of her book in just six weeks.
"Some days I would cry as I wrote because you don't want to remember, but you want to remember," she says. "The memories are just so painful. I poured a lot of tears into the book."
But she willed herself to keep writing, because she felt it was important to share her story with others and talk frankly about the pain she endured. "Abuse is not something that is new, but it's something that sometimes we brush under the table," she says. "We don't want to talk about it because everybody likes to think that how I grew up is how everybody else grew up, and I don't want to hear the grief and the sorrow of that."
Maduneme also wants those who have battled abuse and molestation themselves to find hope in her words and understand that there is joy to be found in life. "It's not just a story of pain, pain, pain. It's very emancipating. It's very redemptive."
In addition to the story of Maduneme's struggles, the book explores Nigerian culture. "What really sets mine apart is it doesn't talk about just the abusive aspect, but it also gives an insight into a culture that a lot of people in the Western world don't really have."
These two subjects fit together naturally. "We talk about what happens to women in the Middle East and in other developing countries, but it's really more predominant than people know. It takes education, it takes insight, it takes enlightenment, it takes having a conversation about it for people to really become aware of it."
Now that her piece of the conversation is down on paper, Maduneme can begin to move on. "I really didn't feel that I could move forward until I really confronted, finally, the past. I always felt that everything I did, somebody out there knows and they're judging me."
She is now in the process of starting other new businesses and is working on two new books. One outlines practical steps women can take to escape abuse and the other, tentatively titled Devil in the Crossroads, is a book for women starting their own businesses.
"I have a lot of energy and excitement about life and I like to get involved in a lot of different things," Maduneme says. "Sometimes [my fiancé] has to pull me back and say, 'How does this fit into everything else you're doing?' It's like, 'Oh, wait a minute. It doesn't.'"