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A tale of 2 Onyekas and one birthday

It’s not every day an author and filmmaker celebrates his birthday and literary journey alongside a musical icon, but this became Onyeka Nwelue’s reality. The date was January 31, and Nwelue clocked 30, making him birthday mates with one of Nigeria’s renowned singers, Onyeka Onwenu.

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The event took place at Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Wuse II, a day after his latest novel, ‘The Beginning of Everything Colourful’, was launched at NAF Conference Centre, Kado, Abuja.

At Thought Pyramid, guests, friends and family, and of course the press, converged for an event that was a birthday celebration, as well as a book party. 

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Nwelue is best known for his debut novel, ‘The Abyssinian Boy’ (which won the TM Aluko Prize for Fiction and came second at the Ibrahim Tahir Prize for First Book), the story of Rajaswamy Rajagopalan, a Tamil Brahmin essayist married to a Nigerian Christian wife, Eunice Onwubiko.  

For the event, special copies of Nwelue’s books, including ‘Island of Happiness’, soon to be released as a motion picture were on display. Packaged to catch the eye of readers, this particular book featured behind-the-scene photographs of the film’s making. 

Guests at the occasion included the Ambassador of the United States of America, Mr. Stuart Symington, Ambassador of Mexico, Alejandro Garcia Moreno Elizondo, the High Commissioner of India, BN Reddy, Ambassador of Denmark, Mr. Tobern, Bring Back Our Girls activist, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, and many more.

Thought Pyramid became a haven for artists and actors, all because of Nwelue. A soul rending song was sung by Maka, a Nigerian soul singer. And of course there was food and drinks and an opportunity to mingle and get acquainted with new faces. 

Nwelue’s book party proved to be the wrong place for any kind of speech making. Laughter, chatter and excitement filled the air. But this was somewhat subdued when Nwelue had to answer questions about his writing journey and personal life. For instance, when he plans to get married or how he succeeds in being such a prolific writer. One of his most interesting responses and at the same time a question was this: “How are you able to eat?” In other words, if food is so important that people find time for it, then that’s the same way he approaches his art. 

Very few people would likely have left Thought Pyramid without learning the details about Nwelue, mostly told by his uncle (who was at the same time the Master of Ceremony) Sir Bright Nwelue.

Born in Imo State, Nwelue was sent to Mount Olives Seminary in Umuezeala Nsu, at the age of 11, where he was meant to become a priest. But he ran away to Lagos to pursue his career in writing, and later wrote for The Guardian and The Punch.

Nwelue began writing his first novel, ‘The Abyssinian Boy’, when he was in India. Aside receiving awards, the work became a national bestseller and was republished in India and the United States. 

Other books include ‘Burnt’, a narrative in verse. Nwelue toured 25 countries of Europe in 2014, promoting the book, which has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Igbo and Yoruba. There’s also his work, ‘Hip-Hop is Only for Children’, a documentary, ‘The House of Nwapa, detailing the life of Flora Nwapa, Africa’s first female novelist in English.

Nwelue is currently an assistant professor and Visiting Fellow of African Literature and Studies at the English Language Department of the Faculty of Humanities, Manipur University in Imphal, India. He is also a Research Fellow at the Centre for International Studies, Ohio University.

All these, Nwelue achieved before the age of thirty, and obviously, there will be more.

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