The 2021 Nigerian Prize for Literature has been awarded to author and academic Cheluchi Onyemelukwe for her debut novel The Son of the House, which explores themes of class divide, women empowerment and female friendship.
Onyemelukwe was announced winner at a glamorous award ceremony on Sunday, 31 October. The other finalists were fellow debut author Abi Darè for The Girl With the Louding Voice and Obinna Udenwe for his second novel Colours of Hatred.
Also during the ceremony, Nigerian academic Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike (Uche Peter Umez) received the Nigerian Prize for Literary Criticism for his article “Self Publishing in the Era of Military Rule,” published in the Journal of African Cultural Studies. The article, which suffered rejections before it was finally accepted for publication by JACS, had earlier won the 2021 Abioseh Porter Prize for Best Essay. Uche will receive a cash award of N1 Million.
The NLNG Prize for Literature awards a cash prize of $100,000 to a Nigerian writer for a work in a specific genre under the year’s consideration. Previous winners include Chika Unigwe, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Ikeogu Oke.
Onyemelukwe’s novel is a subtle, sympathetic take on class divide and women friendship, seen through the lenses of two women of varying backgrounds whose lives are enmeshed when they are both held captive and forced to await their fate together. The novel has earned the tag of most successful debut in recent history, with a string of awards that include Best International Fiction Book Award at the 2019 Sharjah International Book Fair in Dubai, the inaugural SprinNG Women Authors Prize, and a shortlist for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize in Canada.
Onyemelukwe shared a gratitude note on Facebook:
“Good morning all! I am responding as much as I can to the torrent of good wishes following the announcement of The Son of the House as winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021, sponsored by the NLNG. I will write in more detail as I usually do tomorrow.
This morning, however, let me thank God, the Almighty, the Only Wise One, who has been faithful all of my life, for His goodness and mercy and faithfulness and outpouring of blessing in this and so many other things that I have kept private. He sent me word from the day I received the proofs of this book three years ago. And even from before. And His words to me, incredible though they seemed, because of all the obstacles I faced in getting this book out, have continued to be manifested.
To receive yet another major prize as I did the Best International Fiction Prize in the UAE on October 30, 2019, exactly two years later is no coincidence.
I am in awe, and joy, and wonder. I give you Lord Jesus all the praise and the glory and adoration.
People of faith please join me in praise with any of the songs of worship in the comments.”
Congratulations to Cheluchi Onyemelukwe and Uche Peter Umez!