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Ogochukwu Promise

You've got to believe in yourself. If there is anything stopping you, deal with it right away and see to it that you demonstrate your dependability, your strength of character and your ability to reach your goals.

Ogochukwu Promise is a former participant in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, and is a passionate psychologist, novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, motivational speaker, career advisor, and visual artist. 

Currently, Promise travels around the world as a motivational speaker. Her latest motivational books are Everything You Need Is in You, Building Self-Esteem, and Self Enhancement Is Huge Investment. In 2000, she founded The Lumina Foundation to encourage intellectual growth and self-discovery through reading and writing books. In regard to the Lumina Foundation, Promise states, “We are passionate about discovering talents, encouraging and celebrating excellence.”

Promise also established the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and was instrumental in bringing Soyinka to Iowa City in 2011 to speak at the Englert Theater. She has published over sixteen novels and seven collections of poems, many of which have won awards. She won the ANA/Cadbury prize in 1999 for her poetry collection titled My Mother’s Eyes Speak Volumes.

A Passion for Literature

Ogochukwu Promise was born on July 7, 1974, in Enugu, an eastern part of Nigeria.  Her experiences growing up there have helped shape her writing. Being an only child, she was “inspired by watching other people,” and is blessed with a sense of empathy in both writing and interactions with others. She feels “privileged to feel what other people are feeling”.

Promise grew up in a quiet home with her mother and father. Being home alone often, she started showing interest in books, which she was introduced to at a very young age. Her family had a library, and the shelves were always filled with book ranging from Shakespeare to Flora Nwapa. Reading was something that she derived joy and happiness from in her early life; she would read about positive energies, love, control, and the theatrics of daily living.

The act of reading proved to be a passionate journey in Promise's young life:  “I knew that I was becoming wise by the day. Oh, those books and their authors transferred so much wisdom to me,” she said.  Authors that still influence Promise's writing and intellectual life include James Baldwin, Ola Rotimi, Zulu Sofola, Femi Osofisan, and Wole Soyinka. “Literature,” Promise states, “gave me innumerable examples of life: the good, the bad, the ugly.”

“Dream! Achieve!”: The Writing Life

One specific experience has guided Promise’s success. While reading Jacklin Powel’s book, Who do you want to be?, two words remained with her:  ‘Dream! Achieve!’

“They were the most beautiful words I have ever read,” she said.  She had to ‘create’ her own path, and map out herown routes and learn from the mistakes of others. She notes, “I made a promise to myself, to use all the talents I find in me to better myself and others.”

In her fiction, she often writes meditates on themes of spirits, loss, love and death, and the quest of the true soul.  In a review of an African short story anthology African Love Stories, in which Promise is included, her love story is described as “of the joys and the struggle, the ecstasy and the heartbreak that accompany love…”

The stories are all real and believable, both universal yet so firmly grounded in place and time through the way they are written and the background that weaves its way in to each story.”

When writing poetry or prose, her writing process varies.  For poetry, Promise must be alone. Although she finds it more difficult to create poetry, she believes poetry expresses herself and her feelings more effectively.  When writing prose, she can be in a noisier or more social environment, yet still prefers to write in solitude. When she begins a novel, she estimates how many pages it will be and divides the total amount to set goals about how many pages she will write per day.  Promise admitted to “criticizing [herself] too much… [she’ll] rip six or seven pages before having a half of a page.”  Once she starts writing, the work usually directs itself.  After completing the first draft, she will put it away for a month.  After the incubation period, she evaluates it word by word, sentence by sentence.  

In Iowa City, she wrote two poems, “Iowa City”, and “Let Me Be”.  She also started a novel named Mud Doll, a book about death and how death changes and interrupts people’s lives.  She wrote both poems on the bank of the Iowa River, near the Iowa House Hotel where she lived during her stay. The river provided silence, a feature that is important to her while writing, as well as a place where she could connect with nature.  

International Writing in Iowa City

On August 26, 2011, Ogochukwu Promise moved to Iowa City to participate in the International Writing Program, hosted by The University of Iowa. Intrigued by the small, unique town, Promise felt engaged almost at once with the community. Iowa City's friendly, approachable atmosphere was what impressed Promise most when she first arrived.  Walking down the street, she felt welcomed and comforted by warm smiles and a sense of belonging.

In addition to Iowa City’s friendly community, Promise enjoyed “writers being three of every five in the street,” as observed in her poem “Iowa City”.  She was surprised how such a little city could have such a powerful literary influence.

The concept of the International Writing Program (IWP) was unheard of in Nigeria, but her invitation to participate was intriguing enough for her to travel to Iowa City.  The goal of the IWP is “to introduce talented individuals to American life; to enable these individuals to take part in American university life; and to provide writers with time, in a setting congenial to their efforts, for the production of literary work.” Although Promise connected with many of the IWP participants, she preferred to spend most of her time alone, especially when writing.  

Promise frequented Saint Mary’s Church daily. She favored visiting the church at times when she could be alone.  She described the ambiance of the empty church as "Surreal. So quiet, so peaceful". Because the church provided an excellent space for creativity, she was often tempted to bring her laptop and write there.  Instead, she used the atmosphere to brainstorm ideas for new poems and prose to take back to the Iowa House with her, and proceed to write them.           

Promise’s dedication to her work and makes a difference in her world.  She defends this passion, “always telling people that when you love what you are doing and you know the importance of what you are doing, you just have to keep going on…I’m privileged to make such contributions to humanity.”  

Accomplishments

Ogochukwu Promise is the author of nine volumes of poetry, (including the award-winning My Mother's Eyes Speak Volumes,)twelve novels, ten books for children, six books of essays on building self-esteem through writing and reading, two books of short stories, and three plays. She is the founder several humanitarian establishments including of the Lumina Foundation, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, the Ogochukwu Promise Children's Home, and the Lumina Literary Agency.

Promise has also been the recipient of seven ANA awards for both her poetry and her fiction. She is also the recipient of the PAT UTOMI Book Prize. She currently travels around the globe to lecture on writing and give motivational speeches.

References

 Ogochukwu Promise. 2009. http://www.ogochukwupromise.com/

 Promise Okekwe: More than Just A Promising Literary Talent. 1998. HYPERLINK http://nm.onlinenigeria.com/templates/?z=0&a=5069

 "Review: African Love Stories edited by Ama Ata Aidoo." Amy Ready. N.p., 18 November 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2011.

 Igwe, Leo. "The Osu Caste System." Freethinkers. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec 2011. http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/Leo_Igwe/Osu_caste_system.htm

 "About the International Writing Progam at The University of Iowa." The University of Iowa International Writing Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec 2011.