Dr. Osonye Tess Onwueme
Playwright   Novelist   Scholar   Cultural Activist   International Speaker   Performer


"Tess is a rare jewel in this country..." - Dr. K. Kendall, Smith College, MA.


Exalted New Post / Fonlon Nichols Prize / My Work Is Larger Than Any Female Ideology 

Guardian news (The State Of My Art)


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Conversation between the living and the dead

By Nduka Otiono

In the month of September when Osonye Tess Onwueme, Nigerias’s eading female dramatist and author of nearly a dozen award-winning books should be celebrating her 50th birthday, she'll in- stead be sadly burying her beloved mother, Madam Maria Ndidi Akaeke (nee Eziashi) in her ancestral home in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.
  According to family sources, funeral arrangements indicate that on September 15, late Madam Akaeke will begin her final journey from the Ogwashi-uku Mortuary to her home at Isah- Ogwashi-uku where she'll be lying in state, with wake-keeping activities and performances until September 16.
  Also known as "Mama Lagos", Tess's mother died on August 12 at the age of 72 of complications related to stroke. "She just couldn't quite recover from the shock of the loss of her first daughter last year," Tess reportedly lamented, to a friend in a telephone conversation from her base in the United States last weekend. "She was a precious source of inspiration to me, she suffered a lot like the typical African matriarch to see me through school and I'm committed to giving her a befitting farewell."

Tess Onwuemes' Mother,<br />Madam Maria Ndidi Akaeke
Tess Onwuemes' Mother,
Madam Maria Ndidi Akaeke
So profound had been the matriarch's experience on Tess that she developed a fiery dramaturgy and protest theatre to champion the cause of the African woman in play after play. Her heroines in- plays such as The Reign of Wazobia and the more recent, Then She Said It, are the strong breed who tread where men fear to walk. What is more, in the words of a commentator on the BBC production of her play, Shakara Dancehall Queen, "through the voices of women in Shakara and her other plays, Onwueme draws out universal themes of conflict of the inner-self as a recurring motif. Faced with the unfairness of a world which subjugates loyalty and honor while rewarding cruelty and selfishness, Onwuemes' characters construct dialogues which lend a cornplexity to questions of right and wrong.

"Shakara exemplifies Tess' revolutionary, feminist thematic engagements, for.here is "a 17-year-old...girl in Lagos tormented by the love of her hard-working mother and the model behavior of her born-again-Christian sister. Shakara despises the poverty from which she springs, and rejects her mother and sister as fools, remaining loyal to a system which exploits them while the rich opportunities of life pass them by."
  Such revolutionary spirit has evidently driven the distinguished Professor of Cultural Diversity, and Professor of English, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA, on the path~ of overcoming odds to excel. As far back as in 1971 during her secondary school days at the Mary Mount College, Agbor, in Delta State, Tess had won the state scholar award of academic excellence from the old Bendel State Merit Scholarship Board for the. top five per cent of high- school students.

That  had marked the beginning of a glorious career that has seen her winning several distinctive honors including the following: Award of Excellence for Academic Contributions by Women of Co 1- our to the University of Wisconsin (October 1995); Martin Luther King (Jr.) Caesar Chavez, Rosa Parks Distinguished Writer's Award, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan (1989/ 90); Distinguished Author's Award, Ife International Book Fair for overall contribution to the development of African Literature (February 1988); and in 1978/79, she won the Faculty Prize for the Overall Best Performance in the B.A. and B.Sc. Degree Examinations, University of Ife, Nigeria. Between 1988 and 1989, the mother of five was acting president, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), having meritoriously served as vice-president of the association in the preceding year.
  Osonye Tess Onwueme is a playwright whose work is preoccupied with' questions of identity, class and poverty - through which runs a rich vein of women's voices.

African writing
A Nigerian, now based in the USA, Onwueme and her writing are rooted in Africa, from plays 'such as Tell It to Women, to her novel, The Elephant Has No Butt, themes of African folklore and traditional culture underline her work.
  She has a string of honors and awards to her name and is currently in residence as Distinguished Professor of Cultural Diversity and English at the University of Wisconsin, USA. Among her acclaimed works is Shakara - Dance Hall Queen, a new production which can be heard in 'Play of The Week' this month, it also forms part of the American Performance season of plays. Through the voices of women in Shakara and her other plays, Onwueme draws out universal themes of conflict of the inner-self as a recurring motif. Faced with the unfairness of a world which subjugates loyalty and honor while rewarding cruelty and selfishness, Onwueme's, characters construct dialogues which lend a complexity to questions of right and wrong. This co-production between BBC World Service Drama and the African Service was recorded entirely on location in and around Lagos, providing listeners with a unique opportunity to take a journey through one of Nigeria’s biggest and liveliest cities. Shakara can also be heard in Africa as part of the African Performance season.

Vanguard, Vol 23, No 1068897, pg. 40-41, August 28, 2005

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