Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia wins US$100,000 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s novel The Son of The House was declared the winner of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021 at a ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria on Saturday, October 30, 2021. The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism also went to Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike.

The Nigerian Prize for Literature was started to honour Nigerian authors in the four genres of fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature in 2004. The prize worth US$100,000, sponsored annually by oil firm NLNG, makes it the richest in African literature today. Over the last few years, winners have been Jude Idada (2019), Soji Cole (2018), Ikeogu Oke (2017), Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (2016), Sam Ukala (2014), Tade Ipadeola (2013), and Chika Unigwe (2012). The 2020 edition was postponed as a result of the global pandemic which disrupted both economic and social life.

The judging panel for 2021 was chaired by Prof Toyin Jegede, who is a professor of Literature in English at the University of Ibadan. The other judges were Prof Tanimu Abubakar and Dr Solomon Azumurana. Prof Abubakar is a Professor of Literature in the Faculty of Art, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria while Dr Azumurana is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Lagos. The longlist for the prize, whose focus this year was fiction, was announced on June 4 before the shortlist was made public on August 27.

Jury chair Prof Toyin Jegede announced the winner to be Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s novel The Son of The House at the ceremony at the Eko Hotels and Suites in Lagos, Nigeria.

According to a statement by the Advisory Board of the Prize, “After a careful scrutiny of the three Novels, the Panel of Judges and the Advisory Board have, in consideration of its profundity of technique and subject matter as a Nigerian family saga, its thematic depth and social relevance as a commentary on the diversity of collective experiences that shape, hold and mar families in postcolonial Nigeria, and its feminist undertones, found Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House outstanding, and declare it the Winner of the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Literature”.

The Son of the House portrays the lives of two women in different worlds whose paths crossed during captivity. But they soon realised their path had earlier crossed at various points. The stories of Nwabulu, a one-time housemaid and now a successful fashion designer, and Julie, an educated woman who lived through tricks, deceits, and manipulations, are told through a mosaic plot structure against the backdrop of modernity and traditional patriarchy, poverty, and neglect.

Speaking on social media after her win Onyemelukwe-Onuobia said, “My heart is full. Brimming in fact, with the overflow of your embrace and support and warm wishes. I am trying to respond as much as I can to messages online and offline, public and private. And I thank you for rejoicing with me. Life would definitely be less interesting without people to celebrate with in times of joy. “

The Son of The House won the best international fiction prize at the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2019. It is also in the running for Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize 2021.

Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike

The awards also included the Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism which this year went to Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike for his work, Self Publishing in the Era of Military Rule in Nigeria.

“I feel honoured to have received such a prestigious award from my home country. I can’t express my elation enough. Without the support and kindness of family and friends, I wouldn’t have come this far,” he said on winning the award.