Onyeka Nwelue is a Nigerian writer, filmmaker and cultural entrepreneur, who divides his time between Paris, France and Lagos, Nigeria. He was born on 31st January 1988. You can see why I easily identify with him-the age.
He is a notable writer through his critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Abyssinian Boy.
In 2000, he won the Thomson Short Story Prize.
In 2009, he won the TM ALUKO Prize for First Book and came second at the Ibrahim Tahir Prize for Fiction, organised by Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF).
In 2010, he was nominated as Creative Artist of the Year at The Future Awards, Nigeria. He has been nominated thrice for the award, in the same category.
He has been invited and participated at:
The 2nd International Writers’ Festival – India
Jaipur Literature Festival-India.
Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival- Hong Kong.
DSC South Asian Literary Festival – UK.
SWITCH Conference – Portugal.
Lagos Book and Art Festival – Nigeria.
He was Visiting Fellow at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) in Cochin, Kerala and was a Visiting Lecturer at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. He became the first African to join Sandbox, a global community of young innovators under 30.
Onyeka Nwelue was born in Ezeoke Nsu, Imo State, Nigeria. The son of a politician father, Chief Sam Nwelue (also a Knight of St. Christopher), and school-teacher mother, Mrs Kate Nwelue, also an Anglican Lay Reader and cousin to notable Nigerian writers Flora Nwapa and Chukwuemeka Ike. He spent six years in the seminary, and in March 2006, at the age of 18, travelled to India to pursue a career in writing, living in the house of writer Abha Iyengar, before he became famous and made friends with writers and artistes of his generation, including Jyoti Guptara, one of the Guptara Twins, who was introduced to him by young Indian scientist, innovator and inventor of Glabenator, Apurv Mishra. Nwelue started writing at the age of eleven, as soon as he was admitted to the seminary. He wrote “The Talkative Monkey and the Rabbit”, which appears in a chapter of The Abyssinian Boy. He won the Thomson Short Story Prize in 2000. He rose to fame with his appearance at the Wole Soyinka Festival in 2004, after which he was described in The Guardian as “a teenager with a steaming pen”. His first novel, The Abyssinian Boy, was written within the three months of his six-month stay in India, where he had gone to write, at the invitation of the India InterContinental Cultural Association (IICCA). In India, Nwelue practiced Hinduism before turning to atheism. He wrote mainly on religion and sexuality, having met hijras on the streets of Pahar Ganj where major parts of The Abyssinian Boy were set. After the three months of his six month stay in India, Nwelue finished the first draft of The Abyssinian Boy and sent it out to agents, claiming to have received over 45 rejection slips. Depression set in and it was time to leave India; he returned to Nigeria and got admitted into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Sociology & Anthropology. Nwelue described those moments, as “those moments I needed validation from everyone. University education was trending, so if I must belong to the society, I must stay on one of the university campuses and pretend like I was adding something to my life.” But after two years, he withdrew officially and decided to use the term ‘drop-out’ because he believed it is ‘fashionable.’ Within these two years, he had already got signed to DADA Books. The Abyssinian Boy went on to become a critical and commercial success. Nwelue’s portrayal of Indians was lauded by Indians themselves. Following The Abyssinian Boy, Nwelue began work on his second novel, Orchard of Memories, travelling to Hong Kong, where the book is set. In June 2013, Nwelue travelled from Lagos to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Barcelona to sign at Pontas Literary & Film Agency, which happens to be the biggest literary agency in Spain. Nwelue later got admitted into Prague Film School in Czech Republic to study Directing. He runs his company, Blues & Hills Consultancy with an office in Lagos.
Nwelue has been the subject of various controversies owing to his outspoken nature. He legally dropped the name “George” in 2008 because of his atheist beliefs and for the fact that “I didn’t understand the name George”. In 2009, in a newspaper interview, he claimed that “Soyinka writes bad dialogue” even though he still acknowledges the Nobel laureate as one of his mentors. In February 2011, at a lecture he delivered at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi, India, he dropped a bombshell when he declared Things Fall Apart, by the legendary Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, was “the worst book ever written by an African”. He also went on to describe fellow Nigerian writer, the equally famous Chimamanda Adichie, as “a nuisance to African literature”, saying that she was only seeking relevance by connecting herself with Achebe. He posited that both Things Fall Apart and Half of A Yellow Sun should be banned in Indian universities and colleges since they presented poor, one-dimensional images of Africa and implored more non-Africans to read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The video of the speech is on social network YouTube. In the video, he also added that Adichie’s first book, Purple Hibiscus, was one of the best books he had ever read in his life. An open letter he wrote to the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, comparing him to Zimbabwean ruler Robert Mugabe, was published later that year after Nwelue had met Mugabe’s daughters who were schooling in Hong Kong on one of his trips. It caused so much buzz and sections of the public criticized the president for the poor Nigerian educational sector. Nwelue is believed to practice Satanism and has been tagged occultist, owing to his atheist views in a religious country like Nigeria. He has also confessed to have worshipped Ogbuide, the Oguta Lake goddess of Imo State, Nigeria, for reasons known to him.
Quite a controversial figure as he is known in Nigeria, he has also come under scrutiny as I personally believe he’s more convenient writing in settings outside Nigeria but hey, we cannot deny that in Onyeka Nwelue, Nigeria has a budding writer who is coming into his own and may be the controversies will reduce as maturity sets in, only time can tell.