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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Tess Onwueme, leading dramatist, loses Mum

In the month of September when" Osonye Tess Onwueme, Nigeria's leading female dramatist and author of nearly a dozen award-winning books should be celebrating her 50th birthday, she'll instead 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, the funeral arrangements indicate that on September 15,2005, Madam Akaeke will make 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, 2005.

  On September 16, 2005, Christian service will be followed with traditional burial rites and interment at sun- down at her Isah-Ogwashi-Uku home. 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 of America last week- end. She was a precious source of inspiration to me, Tess had continued, she suffered a lot like the typical African matriarch to see me through school and I'm committed to giving her a befitting farewell.

  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 is a recurring motif. Faced with the unfair- ness 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. "

  Shakara exemplifies Tess's 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 1971 during her secondary school days at the prestigious 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 5% of high-school students.

  That had marked the beginning of a glorious career that has seen her winning several distinctive honors including: October 1995: Award of Excellence for Academic Contributions by Women of Color to the University of Wisconsin; 1989/90: Martin Luther King, Jr. Caesar Chavez, Rosa Parks Distinguished Writers Award, Wayne state University, Detroit, Michigan; February 1988: Distinguished Authors Award, Ife International Book Fair for overall contribution to the development of African Literature and in 1978/79: 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.

 As her dear mum commences the homeward journey at the same time as she had hoped to celebrate her 50th birthday, friends at home and abroad are caught in the vortex of wishing her mama a befitting funeral and transition to the great beyond as well as wishing Tess a memorable and inspiring golden jubilee. That is the paradox of life: an oscillation between living and dying, a conversation between the living and the dead.

New Age, Vol 3, No 690, pg. 22, August 26, 2005

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