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Wangari Maathai Essay Competition

Wangari Maathai

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 a 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.

In the spirit of Dr. Maathai, the essay contest is intended to encourage excellence in undergraduate and graduate scholarship on the experience of the Africa and its Diaspora. A prize of $300 will be awarded for the best original essay on any topic in African American, Caribbean, and/or African studies in each of two categories: (a) Undergraduate student; and (b) Graduate student.

The competition is open to all University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students, and submissions may include essays written for courses. Because DAAS is a multi-disciplinary department, the essays may stem from a wide range of fields, such as anthropology, architecture, art, art history, business, drama, economics, education, environmental studies, health, history, journalism, law, literature, medicine, music, nursing, policy studies, political science, psychology, social work, sociology, urban planning, and women's and gender studies. 


Submission date: Monday, April 8, 2024

Please send the following two items to Each item should be a separate email attachment (Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word):

1. Essay coversheet, including:     

  • Your name   
  • Email address
  • Student status (undergraduate or graduate)     
  • Essay title
  • Course for which you wrote the essay, including semester and year (if applicable)

2. Your essay

  • no more than 6,000 words in length
  • typed, double-spaced, 12-point font      

Please include a title page that includes ONLY:

  • essay title   
  • the word “undergraduate” or “graduate”     
  • (do not include your name, email, or course on title page)

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