By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja
Anybody that observes the stable rise of Onyeka Nwelue in the field of African literature and how he has been able to build for himself an empire around the art of storytelling, may not know that this has been the childhood ambition of the Imo-born academic and entrepreneur
Onyeka studied Sociology and Anthropology at the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) before earning a scholarship to study Directing at the Prague Film School in Czech Republic.
Nonetheless, he has always had a strong desire to become literary giant, an ambition he never considered quitting even as he worked hard and persevered through all the odds that came his way.
While reminiscing on his past during a chat with Sunday Vanguard, the UK-based Nwelue said that since childhood, he had always dreamt of becoming wordsmith, adding that his successes in life were divinely orchestrated by God.
He said, “I started out as a visual artist. My parents were very supportive of my craft. My aunt, Flora Nwapa, Africa’s first woman to be published by James Currey lived with my mother. So, when I said I wanted to be a writer, they all supported it.
“I began writing in English when I was 12 years ago. I didn’t struggle as a child. Not at all. I was greatly supported by family. They thought what I chose to do, is honourable.”
Born in 1988 into a lineage of talented griots in the enterprise of storytelling, it is no wonder that Nwelue was able to grow to become an outstanding artist whose achievements cut across filmmaking, book authoring, publishing and selling as well as talk-show hosting. He is one of Africa’s most respected personalities in Oxford, UK.
Speaking of his roots, “I hail from a lineage that, on both the paternal and maternal branches, is steeped in the knowledge and traditions of the Igbo people, a lineage that is characterized by academic and professional distinction in various spheres, and members of whom have consistently ventured into and distinguished themselves in public service. I think because of the kind of support I got from my family, my life was shaped into believing so much in my craft. I have also had to dig deep into my ancestral line.”
When clocked age 27, his book ‘Hip-Hop is Only for Children’ won the ‘Creative Non-Fiction Book of the Year’ at the 2015 Nigerian Writers’ Awards. Three years later, his novella entitled, ‘Island of Happiness’ which was adapted into an Igbo-language film, ‘Agwaetiti Obiụtọ’, won ‘Best Feature Film by a Director’ at the 2018 Newark International Film Festival.
His quick understanding of the intricacies literature helped him to secure an opportunity to study Ancient Classic Literature, under Professor Martin Puchner at Harvard University.
While James Currey co-founded the African Writers’ Series with Chinua Achebe under Heinemann Publishing and published over 250 books by African writers, Onyeka Nwelue founded the James Currey Society, through which he established the James Currey Prize for African Literature and the James Currey Fellowship in cooperation with African Studies Centre, at the University of Oxford.
Nwelue’s unbelievable journey isn’t just about fame and fortune, but also about putting them to worthy causes. He believes in giving back to society. The literary icon has been a regular philanthropist to the needy around the world. He does whatever he can in his capacity to support the education of the youths.
He said, “I established the Onyeka Nwelue Scholarship for Outstanding Imo State Economics Student and I hope this can last longer. I am helping set up and build a film school in Haiti. This is different from the James Currey Prize and many others I want to set up. I have a publishing house, Abibiman Publishing in London and co-founded World Arts Agency in Johannesburg.”
At 33, Nwelue is an Academic Visitor at the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford and the English Language Department of the Faculty of Humanities, Manipur University in Imphal, India.
Having lived in Mexico, France, the US and now splits his time between the UK and South Africa, Nwelue is also an expert in the music industry with the aim to make La Cave Musik, his record label, bigger and influential while producing stars in the industry in a bid to take over the global music industry.
Like millions of Nigerians, Nwelue dreams of a secure and prosperous Nigeria but insists the youths must rise to the occasion by acquiring education and participating in politics.
According to him, “We are living through a critical period in the Nigeria story. More so, we are living through defining times for Ndigbo and the South-East. Given the insecurity crisis and a case of snail-speed development that is now being reversed, fresh thinking is required to chart the course forward for the country. Young people should get involved in education and politics by all means. They may just find their life purpose through these platforms.”