It is amazing that most Nigerian/African youth do not know about the legendary Professor Tess Osonye Onwueme. She is an internationally acclaimed playwright, scholar and poet, who rose to prominence writing plays with themes of social justice, culture, and the environment. Born in Ogwashi-Uku present day Delta State, Nigeria, in September 1955, she was educated at the Mary Mount Secondary School, Agbor. Tess attended the University of Ife (now OAU), Nigeria for her Bachelors Degree in Education in 1979 and Masters in literature in 1982. She attained her PhD at the University of Benin, Nigeria in African Drama.
Some of her published plays include: Riot In Heaven (2006), No Vacancy (2005), Legacies (1989), The Missing Face (2002), Broken Calabash (1984), The Reign of Wazobia (1988), and Ban Empty Barn and other plays (1986).
She has won several international awards, including: the prestigious Fonlon-Nichols award (2009), the Phyllis Wheatley/Nwapa award for outstanding black writers (2008), the Martin Luther King, Jr./Caeser Chavez Distinguished Writers Award (1989/90), the Distinguished Authors Award (1988), and the Association of Nigerian Authors Drama Prize which she has won several times with plays like The Desert Encroaches (1985), Tell It To Women (1995), Shakara: Dance-Hall Queen (2001), and Then She Said it (2003). This is aside from other numerous honours and international productions of her drama.
Through her plays, she has used the theatre as a medium to showcase historically silenced views such as the sometimes pitiable plight of African Women.
In 2007, the United States State Department appointed her to the Public Diplomacy Speaker Program for North, East, and West India.
In 2009, the Tess International Conference with the theme, “Staging Women, Youth, Globalization, and Eco-Literature,” (which was exclusively devoted to the author’s work) was successfully held by international scholars in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, following the Fonlon-Nichols award to the dramatist.
In 2010, she became the University Professor of Global Letters, following her exceptional service as Distinguished Professor of Cultural Diversity and English at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, USA where she is based. Explaining the title, Tess says, “…In my own special case now, it means that I am in a very exclusive club by myself. I’ve gone beyond being a Distinguished Professor in the University, to becoming an iconic mark of honour, pride, and excellence, reaching far beyond the local to the (inter)national community as the institution’s UNIVERSITY OF PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL LETTERS. It is a very uncommon position. Only extremely distinguished African writers and Professors like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, occupy such special named positions/chairs in American universities. On a much lighter note, therefore, being ‘crowned’ a UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL LETTERS is like being declared an ‘NZE’ or KING, or OBA, or EMIR, or ‘MUALIMU’, as it were, in the academic field.”
Often described as Africa’s best female dramatist, Tess is globally studied by students of the Arts.
The prolific author and riveting speaker featured in the Women’s Playwright International Conference in Stockholm, Sweden in August 2012.
A few of her National and International Productions over the years are:
August-Sept. 2010: Shakara: Dance-Hall Queen (both the Hindi translation and the original English version of the play) performed on stage at the International Khatakali Centre in New Delhi, India.
April 2010: What Mama Said performed on stage by the by the ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) Performance Department, directed by Steve Daniel in April 2010.
November 2009: Wazobia staged as the inaugural performance for the 2009 Tess International Conference in Abuja,Nigeria. The play was staged on November 12, 2009 by the Abuja University Theatre Troupe, directed by Olympus Ejue.
December 2007: The World Premiere of Parables For A Season at the KICS International Amphitheatre, Khartoum, Sudan, in collaboration with the American Artistic director, Mark Webber.
April 2007: Shakara: Dance-Hall Queen was staged at Purdue University, Calumet/Lafayette in the Spring of 2007.
September 2004: Shakara: Dance-Hall Queen, produced by the BBC World Drama Service, BBC Play of the Week, International Drama Feature for the Fall of 2004.
April 27-May 28, 2001: The Missing Face, produced off-Broadway by the New Federal Theatre in New York City; with Producing Director, Woodie King, Jr.
October, 1984: The Broken Calabash, First show-cased at the National Theatre, Lagos, Nigeria as part of the national annual drama features. After touring a number of cities, this successful production adapted for film by the National Television Authority (NTA) Nigeria. The film was featured for national broadcast, marking the Nigerian Independence Silver Jubilee Celebration.
This list is far from exhaustive I might add.
Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! I am in awe!! Take note that she was completely educated in Nigeria. And yet, there she is, a NIGERIAN WOMAN succeeding beyond even her wildest dreams.
Are you challenged? You should be. Are you a writer? Keep at it. You can become a star in whatever field it is you are equipped for. I hope I have what it takes, do you?