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)


Latest NEWS 


Tess Onwueme, leading dramatist, loses mum

By Mike Jimoh

Life, they say, is not without its ironies. Imagine preparing for a big birthday soiree only to have your mother die at just about the same time! That is the drama that is now unfolding in the life of a leading female Nigerian dramatist based in the United States of America. And to think that everything is being acted out without the writer having to script anything herself.
Early next month, Professor Tess Onwueme will turn 50. She’d planned big for the day, and there was to be something like a bi-continental birthday celebration. But just when family and friend were getting prepared to celebrate her golden jubilee, the mother of the last of Nigeria’s remaining serious female playwrights suddenly died. So, instead of gifts, Prof. Onwueme will be receiving condolences.
"She is absolutely devasted by it all," a close kin of the dramatist told Sunday Sun last week. "We were actually looking forward to tag rat birthday party in the U.S and Nigeria. But news came that her mother, Madam Maria Ndidi Akaeke (nee Eziashi), had died. No one is talking of any birthday anymore.
Prof Onwueme herself returned to Nigeria Wednesday for the burial of here mother who had suffered two strokes before death. Madam Akaeze will be buried on September 15 in Isa-Ogwashi-Uku in Delta State. She had actually recovered from the first when a second and more damaging on e paralyzed her once again. She never fully recovered from the second attack even though she’d been "given the best western medicine could offer, " a family source said.
Also known as "Mama Lagos", Tess’s mother died on August 12 at the age of 72. "She just couldn’t quite recover from the shock of the loss of her first daughter last year," Tess reportedly lamented toa friend in a telephone conversation form her based 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 seem me through school and I’m committed to giving her a befitting farewell."
Tess, according to one source, is going the extra length to bury her mother especially financially. She wants a limo hearse for her mother, for instance, and it has to be a white one too. Though some might see it as vanity for one in a profession that is not given to flamboyant displays, Tess is determined to give her mum the best in death because of the role she played in her education.
So profound had been the matriarch’s experience on Tess that she developed a fiery dramaturgy and protest theatre to champion the cause of 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 in 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".
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 he prestigious Mary Mount College, Agbor in Delta State, Tess had won "The State scholar" Award of Academic Excellence from the Bendel State Merit Scholarship Board, for the top five of high school students.
That had marked the beginning of a glorious career that has seen her winning several distinctive honors including award of excellence for academic contributions by Women of Color t the University of Wisconsin and Rosa Parks distinguished writers award from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.
"Onwueme is a playwright whose work is preoccupied with questions of identity, class and poverty- through which runs a rich vein of women’s voice. Onwueme and he writing are rooted in her home country, former 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, "according to information contained in her website.
"Among her acclaimed works is Shakara- Dancehall Queen, a new production of which can be heard in Play of The Week this month. It also forms part of the American Performance season of plays.
Across the Atlantic is a 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."

Sunday Sun, pg. 41

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