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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Dr. Tess Onwueme Receives Prestigious Award from African Literature Association

April 21, 2009 - by University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair

EAU CLAIRE - Dr. Tess Onwueme, distinguished professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has received the African Literature Association's prestigious Fonlon-Nichols award. The award is given annually to an African writer whose works have demonstrated a commitment to democratic ideals, humanistic values and literary excellence in Africa.

Fonlon-Nichols award
Fonlon-Nichols award
"The award elevates Dr. Onwueme to a new level among world-class writers," said Jack Bushnell, chair of the English department. "It's an honor that will put her on the radar screen for groups that make decisions about other prestigious awards, including the Nobel committee. It's a very big deal." A variety of internationally known luminaries are past recipients of the Fonlon-Nichols award, including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka of Nigeria. The prestigious award is named for Cameroonian literary scholar Bernard Fonlon and American journalist Lee Nichols, recognizing their contributions to the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression.

Onwueme - who joined UW-Eau Claire's faculty in 1994 - received the Fonlon-Nichols award April 17 during the ALA conference in Vermont.

"It was a very high profile event that made me feel 10 times taller than I've ever been in my entire life; to share the stage and be named in the same breath with literary giants and icons like the first black Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka," Onwueme said of receiving the award. "I'm back here now more sober than ever before because of the heavy weight of responsibilities that accompany such daunting honors." During her speech at the ALA conference, Onwueme said she understands that with the award and her elevated profile come new expectations.

"Now that you've hired me to follow the footsteps of Fonlon-Nichols in their irrevocable advocacy for the rights of the many who have no power, no place, and no voice to claim/assert their dignity and identity lost, stolen, or denied, I accept," Onwueme told the packed international audience of scholars and writers appearing like a Who's-Who in African, African American, Caribbean and Commonwealth literatures for the awards ceremony. "I accept your job offer to serve this role of solicitor and advocate for the oppressed, not only because it is exciting and empowering to join the elevated company of tested activist writers, but because I, too, in the lonely acts and scenes of my own creative cocoon, until now, have been undergoing the requisite audition for the job with the challenging job description that you've now assigned me.

"But it is not without costs. Indeed, I see the tantalizing tight strings attached. I see them, and sigh deeply to fill up my wheezing/limping lungs for the bigger journeys ahead. With your call, your thousand and one ears tuned, sifting through and weighing every word I utter or write, along with those myriad eyes riveted and beaming on me now, I feel the spotlights illuminating and prodding me onto the feverish world-stage."

One of the best known and most prolific women playwrights of African descent, Onwueme has received many international awards, including a Ford Foundation research award.

An international conference focusing on Onwueme's work will be held in November in Nigeria, Onwueme's native country. Onwueme persuaded the international organizing committee to hold the conference in Nigeria since many of her supporters and colleagues from Africa, India, the Caribbean and Europe could not attend the ALA conference.

"This is an international conference dedicated exclusively to Dr. Onwueme's work," Bushnell said. "That is an incredible honor and an indication of just how respected she is throughout the world."

The conference - titled "Staging Women, Youth, Globalization and Eco-Literature" - will be held Nov. 11-14 at the University of Abuja in the capital city of Nigeria. It will focus on Onwueme as a playwright, scholar, activist and producer whose works explore a range of social, political, historical, cultural and environmental concerns of Nigerians, specifically women, youth, people of the Niger Delta, and related Third World societies. For details about the award, contact members of the international organizing committee:

Maureen Eke, Central Michigan University, Maureen.eke@cmich.edu;
Kanika Batra, Texas Tech University, New Delhi University, kanika.batra@ttu.edu;
Becky Becker, Columbus State University, becker_becky@colstate.edu;
Sonja Darlington, Beloit College, darling@beloit.edu;
and O. Okome, University of Alberta, ookome@ualberta.ca.

Dr. Tess Onwueme can be reached at 715-836-4041 or onwuemto@uwec.edu.


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