Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Three Writers: An Award, A Farmer, A Justice-Seeker

Barnes & Noble Writers Award

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won an award for writers who support other writers.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won an award for writers who support other writers.

The bookseller Barnes & Noble has their name attached to a prestigious writers’ award given annually to authors. I had never heard of it; had you? Adichie was one of three writers given the award this year.

“The Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award celebrates authors who have given generously to other writers or to the broader literary community. The award, which is presented each year at Poets & Writers’ annual dinner, is named for Barnes & Noble in appreciation of its long-standing support.”

Thanks to Barnes & Noble for sponsoring this important award and for making Adichie one of the three writers this year!

Chimamanda Adichie won the award for her workshop in Nigeria. She had been holding the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop annually for about ten years.

For Her Farafina Workshop, Adichie Will Be the Second African to Receive the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award

Farafina is “the highest-profile creative writing workshop on the continent,” the Brittle Paper article says. Twenty to twenty-four writers are chosen. Applications come in from all over Africa. The majority of the participants are from Nigeria.

The workshop takes place for ten days, ending with a pubic event. It was cancelled in 2017 when Nigerian Breweries who had been the sponsor, suddenly withdrew. I hope the award will help Adichie get sponsorship for the next workshop.

The award ceremony in New York will be in March. Tickets are $500. I don’t think I’ll be buying a ticket. I wonder if there is anyone who could take me as a guest?

President Buhari is Tweeting

President Buhari's photo from Twitter

President Buhari’s photo from Twitter

The farmer who is Tweeting is actually Nigeria’s President Buhari. More likely, someone is tweeting for him. He’s the second of my three writers.

He said a couple of days ago, “I’m spending a few days at home in Daura on my farm before going to Paris to One Planet meeting.”

In the Tweet, he said, “I grow fruits & vegetables,& keep cattle. I hope this will inspire one more person to take up farming. My vision is for a country that grows what it eats.”

Hmm. Somehow I don’t expect Twitter followers to rush out to farm. But I do agree with the sentiment. The country should be completely self-sufficient in food production, and it’s a long way from that goal.

Amnesty International Letter-Writing Campaign

Every year in December Dorothy Rich, a member of our congregation at The Unitarian Church in Westport, invites us to sign letters and write cards.

She brings a variety of causes. For each, she has prepared letters to people in authority, and cards for us to write notes to the people who are facing hardship.

Yesterday I signed a letter to Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica.

The letter is to seek his protection for Shackelia Jackson, whose brother was killed by the police in 2014. We are not the only ones facing this issue! The info that Amnesty gave out says, “Police killings of mainly young and mostly poor men is to common in Jamaica, with some 2,000 killed in the past decade.”

Jackson is the third of my three writers. She says the police are harassing her, her family, and her community for her campaign for justice.

I also wrote a card of support to her, wishing her strength in her battle. I said I would blog about her today, so here I am.

There is information about her and her campaign, and a petition, at Amnesty.

Christmas Concert at The Unitarian Church

Yesterday was our annual Christmas Concert at The Unitarian Church in Westport.

Every year my husband complains. He says, “You Unitarians don’t believe in Christ. So why do you celebrate Christmas?” Then he adds, “Why do you have a concert when this is supposed to be church?”

I’ve tried many explanations; none is satisfactory. Do you have an answer for one or both of his questions?

One of the pieces we sang yesterday is from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. We sang the beginning of the third cantata of the oratorio. As Music Director Rev. Dr. Ed Thompson wrote in the program notes, “It is a piece filled with joy and gratitude.”

I love singing in German, and I love singing Bach.

In addition to this piece, we sang Hanerot Halalu, about Chanukah and the struggle of the Maccabeans for their religious freedom, an African Noel, though I was hard-pressed to see the African in it, and Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata.

I was filled with joy for the whole service!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. As promised, here’s a link to my blog post based on Clem’s first question:

  2. I am building an answer to Clem into a post to my own blog. Will let you now when it’s up.

  3. I would suggest that your Unitarian Church consider celebrating Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali and perhaps other major religious festivals, as well as Christmas. The major religions have so much in common and yet history shows that the followers of these religions seem to love to engage in endless hatred and war. Whether you drink your water from a silver chalice, a glass tumbler or a gourd — it’s pretty much the same water.

    • Thanks, Peter. Actually we do celebrate other major religious festivals, especially the Jewish holidays. We give a nod to the major Muslim holidays and in Sunday School, for a while called Religious Education, now called Lifespan Faith Development, children visit the nearby mosque and the temple. I know they also talk about Diwali.

  4. “Christmas” – in the West – is an amalgamation of the pagan feast of Stephen which used to be on December 7th and the date of the believer’s birth of Christ, the 25th.

    I’m a lover of the “Feast of Stephen” as it’s the source of the “giving” component of the holiday, “Good King Wenceslas/Father Christmas, etc.

    I guess the role it played was to humanize religion with a bit of “giving” and so for me that’s the best part

  5. Tell my friend Clem that there is no litmus test of belief or practices for celebrating Christmas! I think it is a testament to it’s enduring and universal themes and imagery that people from all over the theological spectrum are drawn in by the power and inspiration of the Christmas story which gives rise to the diverse ways it is celebrated. As to the ‘concert’ it is one of the ways we worship and worship comes in all shapes and sizes. Dance, and davening, chanting and silence, walking in the woods, lighting candles and sitting in dark and quiet places.

  6. For Clem: Music creates community, churches are devoted to community, so why not use music to create and reinforce community in a church? He’ll probably disagree – but that’s my attempt at an explanation!

  7. My personal answers to Clem would probably be no more satisfactory than yours, but here you go:

    Nonbelievers celebrate Christmas as a Western socio-cultural event tied to, but not exclusively an expression of any specific denomination of Christianity in these times. Pagan evergreens and carols, the return of The (sun)Light or the arrival of the (Son)Light, and the sheer body of tradition all inform our practices — from what I’ve read in your books about Igbo traditions persisting into the present, I would think this would make sense to him. Cultures keep traditional practices alive, even when beliefs change, because they can bring joy (which you say filled you throughout the service).

    As for music: I suspect nearly every human culture across the world and throughout time celebrates spirit and religion, at least sometimes, with music. A concert in a church makes perfect sense to me, celebration and community-building; I am honestly baffled that this might not be grasped.

    Just my two cents on the matter!

    • Thank you, Liz. Clem was mildly impressed with your answer referencing the persistence of Igbo traditions even when beliefs are gone. The problem for him is that he is still a believer in Christianity, or in the version he learned as a child. He finds it hard to understand that I am not.