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Promise Okekwe: More than Just A Promising Literary Talent

Posted by Newswatch Magazine on 2005/09/01 | Views: 2048 |

Promise Okekwe: More than Just A Promising Literary Talent


Promise Ogochukwu Okekwe, scholar, novelist, playwright and poet is a silent achiever in the literary circles. Until June 25, this year when she won the maiden editing of Pat Utomi book prize with her 623-page opus, her name did not ring a bell as a rising star writer.

Promise Ogochukwu Okekwe, scholar, novelist, playwright and poet is a silent achiever in the literary circles. Until June 25, this year when she won the maiden editing of Pat Utomi book prize with her 623-page opus, her name did not ring a bell as a rising star writer.

This is probably because this young lady in her 30s prefers concentrating her creative energies on churning out more books for people to read and develop their intellect. Her talent as a writer started manifesting early in her life. Indeed, she began to write well before she realised what the gift she had was all about.

As a little girl in the primary school, she began to write, composing nursery rhymes, songs and short stories, which held a lot of promises. At the Queens High School, Enugu where she had her post-primary education between 1980 and 1985, she read voraciously and wrote philosophically with an obvious flair for knowledge acquisition, generation, and implementation of brilliant ideas.

On completion of her post-primary education, she went on to study English and Literary Studies at the University of Calabar. Still eager to further sharpen her writing skills, Okekwe proceeded to the University of Ibadan where she earned both her masters and doctorate degrees in Communication and Language Arts. Indeed, she distinguished herself in the postgraduate programme. In 1992, she emerged the best graduating student in the masters programme of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan and obtained her Ph.D at the age of 27. Before she went into writing full blast, Okekwe taught briefly at the University of Ibadan and Yaba College of Education between 1994 and 1998.

She had a stint with the banking sector, having worked briefly as the head of corporate affairs department of Liberty Bank from where she resigned in March 2005 to set up the Lumina Foundation, her pet project.

Okekwe has set out to illuminate the literary world with her books. Already, she has written 16 published novels, seven collection of poems, two plays, and five literature books. Many literary icons who have assessed her works have acknowledged her prowess as a writer. Based on the quality of her writings, she had won several other awards before she emerged winner of the Pat Utomi book prize. In 1999, Okekwe won the ANA/Cadbury prize for poetry. The winning entry was her collection titled My Mother's Eyes Speak Volumes. Also in the same year, she won the ANA/Spectrum Prize for Prose with her novel, Surveyor of Dreams.

She continued with her winning streak in 2000 when she won the prestigious ANA/Okigbo Prize for poetry in Africa with her collection, Canals in Paradox. She again made it double victory that year by winning the Spectrum Prize for prose with her novel, Deep Blue Woman. Other awards she has in her kitty include, the maiden edition of the Association of Nigerian Authors/Niger Delta Development Commission, ANA/NDDC, Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize which she won in 2002 with her novel, Hall of Memories and the Matatu Prize for Children's Literature. Her winning entry for the Matatu prize is her literature book, Street Beggars.

Okekwe whose first name is Promise yet proved that she is a promising literary mind in 2003 when she won the Flora Nwapa prize for prose with her novel titled Fumes and Cymbals.

By adding the 2005 Pat Utomi book prize to her array of awards, she has gradually carved a niche for herself as a thorough bred writer. In the Middle of the Night, her award-winning book is considered a masterpiece. Okekwe attempted to mirror the society through this highly political novel. Reflecting on the book, Okekwe noted that it captures the tendency whereby politicians insist on getting to the top through hook or crook. "It looks at the political life we are living, how everybody tends to get to the top, even if it means trampling on as many people as possible. I also highlighted the activities of the few good politicians, so that it could influence the bad eggs," she said. She told Newswatch that she craves for the peaceful co-existence of all people, for fairness in leadership, for wealth redistribution, accommodation of the less privileged, justice and triumph of good over evil. These factors informed the themes in her book In the Middle of the Night.

Okekwe who is deeply religious said that she gets divine inspiration to write and this explains why she is excelling. "I can say that God has been very good to me. He keeps enabling me to tap from His creative energy. I owe everything indeed to Him," she told Newswatch. "I try as much as possible to make my works the mirror of the society, where people can look at and see themselves in such a way that they can recognize some characters they read in these books in the streets," she said.

She is passionate about writing and reading, hence she has decided to invest the N1 million prise money from the Pat Utomi award into Lumina Foundation, her pet project. The foundation is devoted purely towards grooming the younger ones on how to read and write books. According to her, the foundation encourages erudition, information dissemination and readership. "We are training a couple of children to write. One of them, an 11-year old has just written a lovely book, which we published for her," Okekwe said.

Okekwe who was born in Enugu about three decades ago is working her way up steadily and diligently. She believes that her background had a lot of influence on her. Her parents, Davies Onwudiwe, who worked with the Ministry of Education and her mother Jane, a teacher, introduced books to her at a very early age.

Through her creativity, hardwork and perseverance, she has continued to raise the quality of her works. Her inspirational role models include, Toni Morrison, the great American female writer and James Baldwin another accomplished novelist. According to her, she admires Morrison for her boldness and commitment towards the promotion of social justice. "I like the forthrightness in her work and the punch with which she pursues her goal," Okekwe said. On the other hand, she loves Baldwin for the fire in his writings.

Her works have received international acclaim. This has accorded her the privilege of participating in fellowships in the United States, Germany, and Italy. She was Azikwe Fellow in Communication, University of North Texas, 2001, and Fellow, Stifting Kulturfords, Germany, 2002. In 2004, she was a nominee of the British Council Leadership Award in Communication.

Apart from writing, this enterprising young woman recently developed interest in the art of painting. According to her, she discovered her talent in painting two years ago and has since then been trying to develop it. Her works are primarily abstract paintings which have been appreciated by professional artists for their aesthetic values. Her exhibitions are informal and characterised by improvisations and artistic innovations. She allows her works speak for her, whether she is writing or painting, using the medium she is very conversant with which is a fusion of text and painting with the stylish use of creative hand as a meeting point of muse and expression.

Her hobbies include, reading, giving lectures and more writing. Her future in the literary world is certainly very bright.

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