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Wangari Maathai Essay Competition


The essay prize competition is named in honor of Wangari Maathai ( b.1940-d. 2011), the Kenyan scholar and activist who, in 2004, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace prize. Wangari Maathai was Kenyan environmentalist who began a movement to reforest her country by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and authored four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth.

Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya, Wangari Muta Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree (1971).  She was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. According to the United Nations, at the time of her death, her Green Belt Movement had planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and helped nearly 900,000 women while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.

The essay contest is therefore intended to encourage, in the spirit of Dr. Maathai, excellence in graduate and undergraduate scholarship on the experience of the Africa and it's Diaspora. A prize of $300 will be awarded for the best original essay on any topic in Afroamerican, Caribbean, and/or African studies in each of two categories: (a) Undergraduate student; and (b) Graduate student. The judges for the competition will be drawn from among the faculty and faculty associates in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. The competition is open to all University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students working on Afroamerican, Caribbean, or African topics. The paper must be written no earlier than January 1, 2014. Since DAAS is a multi-disciplinary program, the papers may be from a wide range of fields including, among others, anthropology, architecture, art, art history, business, drama, education, history, economics, education, health, journalism, law, literature, medicine, music, natural resources, nursing, policy studies, political science, psychology, social work, sociology, urban planning, women's studies, natural resources and environment. Papers written for courses are eligible.

Please send the following two items in the same email, but as separate email attachments. The attachments should be either Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word documents.

    1. A completed essay coversheet.

    Your cover sheet should include the following information:

  • Name
  • Student status (undergraduate or graduate)
  • Essay title
  • Course for which you wrote the essay (including semester and year)
  • Email address

    2. Your essay.

  • The essay should be no more than 6,000 words in length (approximately 30 pages).
  • It should be typed, one-and-a-half spaced or double-spaced.
  • The font should be no smaller than 11 point.
  • There must be a title page. The title page must have the title of the essay and the word “graduate” or “undergraduate” directly below it; remove all other identifying information. Do not put your name, email, or course information on the title page.

Essays must be submitted by email to no later than 5:00 p.m., Friday, March 16, 2018. Important: Depending on your status, write the following in your email subject line: Essay Competition (undergrad) or Essay Competition (grad).

Prizes and certificates will be presented at the DAAS Graduation Ceremony. For further information, email

Past Graduate Essay Winners

Charnan Williams
Essay Title: To Fight all the Hydra Head: An Exploration of Violence and African American Politicking in Louisiana Municipal Elections During Reconstruction

Mike Tien
Essay Title: CAAS: Beyond Afroamerican and African Studies

Matthew William Blanton
Essay Title: "Fatal Women" Take the Court: Gender and Sexuality in the Women's National Basketball Association

Shoi D. Smith
Essay Title: Smoking Disparities Between Blacks and Whites: Getting to the Root of the Problem

Jonathan Shepard
Essay Title: Condoms and Conspiracies: HIV/AIDS in Malawi

Tayana L. Hardin
Essay Title: Modernity, Difference and the Black Female Dancing Body in Josephine Baker’s Princess Tam Tam

Menna Demessie
Essay Title: Rethinking the American Dream: The Cost of Coming to America -- Immigration and Depression in the Case of Sinedu Tadesse