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BBC to Broadcast
Play by Tess Onwueme

 MAILED:  Nov. 19, 2003

EAU CLAIRE — The award-winning Nigerian playwright Tess Onwueme, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has contracted with BBC World Service Drama in London to adapt her play, “Shakara: Dance Hall Queen” (2001), as a radio play to be broadcast in 2004.

Onwueme was contacted last summer by a producer at BBC World Drama, who wrote that he was a big fan of “Shakara: Dance Hall Queen” and wanted to develop it as a one-hour radio play to be broadcast on BBC World Service as part of the Play of the Week strand.

The play will be produced in Nigeria next March and April, Onwueme said. She will be on sabbatical next semester and plans to be in Nigeria for the production.

“I will be a consultant to the project and make sure the adaptation stays true to the play,” Onwueme said, noting the play will be broadcast to a radio audience of 56 million and will be repeated on a regular basis.

“Shakara,” which won the Association of Nigerian Authors coveted drama prize in 2001, is one of 13 published plays by Onwueme. The play is about mothers and daughters and their struggle for identity, power and control. It takes place in a modern city which is sharply split between the rich and the poor.

“It’s about the quest for money and the rat-race for success and material goods, which drives people to engage in all kinds of dysfunctional behavior that are inimical to their striving for positive identity and progress,” Onwueme said.

Onwueme joined the UW-Eau Claire faculty in 1994 as the institution’s first Distinguished Professor of Cultural Diversity. Earlier she taught at Montclair State University in New Jersey and at Vassar College. She holds a doctorate in drama from the University of Benin, Nigeria, and a master’s degree in literature from the University of Ife, Nigeria.

Considered one of Africa’s leading writers, she has received international recognition for many of her plays. She has won the ANA drama prize four times since 1985, most recently this month for “Then She Said It” (2002). She is currently working on her second novel, “What I Cannot Tell My Father.” She teaches various courses in African and world literature and drama, with special emphasis on the studies of women in contemporary Black literature and drama.

“Life and life experiences provide me with the raw material for my writing,” Onwueme said. “Writing offers me an animated and interactive ‘global classroom’ for dialogue with the international community about the socio-political developments deforming and transforming them.

“I write to develop consciousness, not to entertain. There’s enough entertainment going on. I see my writing as an extension of my teaching and dialogue with society. In this regard I’ve chosen drama as my primary medium because it’s highly communal and offers a critical stage for negotiating ideas about developments which continue to impact and transform our world and socio-political values.”

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Updated: November 18, 2003