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Cover art courtesy of Chike Frankie Edozien.

Nigeria's First Gay Memoir Is an Essential Primer on the Real Experiences of LGBT Africans

In conversation with journalist Chike Frankie Edozien about his new book, "Lives of Great Men."

Lives of Great Men, a memoir by Nigerian-born journalist Chike Frankie Edozien, chronicles his life as a gay man amidst the backdrop of Nigeria's changing political regimes in the 90s, immigrating to the U.S. and traveling around the world as a journalist. But Edozien's life isn't the only one at the center of this story. In 17 chapters, Edozien illuminates the lives of many around him, countering the narrative of those who diminish the existence of an LGBT community in African countries.

The depiction of LGBT life in African writing is not a new phenomenon. Queer characters have appeared on the pages of African literature from as far back as the early 70s, but these characters were usually fictional and not always depicted as "full human beings, with real lives and loves and dreams," notes Otosirieze Obi-Young, deputy editor of African literary blog, Brittle Paper.


The book, which has been hailed as "Nigeria's first gay memoir," discredits singular depictions of queer Africans by highlighting the lived experiences of real LGBT people, and in turn, pushing back on detractors who argue that LGBT life in Africa is non-existent. Unlike fiction, which can be discredited simply as imagination, Obi-Young says that with nonfiction, "there is no hiding place, you are insisting that what they are denying exists."

According to Edozien, it was easy to tell his own story, but for many of the men and women whose experiences were shared in the book, it was a much more difficult line to walk.

"People allowed me in after a period of intense negotiation, but they allowed me in, and I tried my best to represent them as honestly as I could," he says.

In the book, Edozien writes about the lives of the African men and women he encounters with a familiar candor, humor, and disbelief, in some instances. He writes with anger about the political and cultural forces that negate the existence of the people whose lives he chronicles. He also writes with joy and pride at how so many have continued to thrive, despite efforts to ensure the opposite.

Photo courtesy of Chike Frankie Edozien.

"What I wanted to do with this book was talk about a broad spectrum of things," he says to me in his office at New York University, where is he is a journalism professor. "I didn't just want to talk about the bad stuff, I wanted to talk about the wonderful people who are being very supportive of their gay friends and children, and those who are living fulfilled lives and doing things, in spite of all of this."

The book is also a response to what Edozien calls an increasingly less tolerant society and the scapegoating of the African LGBT community. According to a 2017 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), 33 African countries criminalize homosexual behavior and/or attraction, with some like Nigeria threatening imprisonment for 14 years, and criminalizing agencies set up to advocate for the country's LGBT citizens.

The book shows that recent attacks on LGBT Africans are in direct contrast with what Edozien observed as a child, noting that "it went from a tacit acknowledgment [of LGBT people] to let's jail them, let's beat them up," he says. "I started to see that this was a constituency that had very little defenders and it was easy to attack them and get away with it."

In Nigeria alone, scores of people who are part of the LGBT community have been harassed, arrested, and attacked because of their sexuality or affiliation with LGBT organizations. This has led to an increase in Nigerians fleeing to the U.S. and Canada to seek asylum.

Edozien expresses his wish for the book to set off a domino effect in countries on the continent and to open up room for dialogue about LGBT issues. But most importantly, Edozien hopes the book will encourage other queer men and women to tell their stories.

"That's one of my hopes, that more stories will be able to come out because of this," says the 2018 Lambda Literary Award winner for gay memoir or biography. "I still find it weird that people think we don't have these stories to tell."

Currently, the book hasn't been released in any African country, but many readers and writers on the continent are looking forward to its impending release. "It's an important book; it's the sort of book we like because it challenges the way we think and forces us to ask ourselves important questions about our beliefs and the journey to arriving at those beliefs," Lola Shoneyin, writer and director of the Ake Book and Arts Festival, says.

Although Edozien began writing the book in earnest in 2013, he has been writing stories about contemporary LGBT life on the continent and in the diaspora for well over a decade. To him, the book is simply a continuation of his past work.

"And sometimes, I feel like I haven't even finished," he says with a laugh.

News Brief

The Trailer for Faraday Okoro's Tribeca Film 'Nigerian Prince' Is Here

The film is due to hit U.S. theaters October 19.

The trailer for Nigerian filmmaker Faraday Okoro's debut feature Nigerian Prince is here, Shadow and Act reports.

We're a month away from the film landing in U.S. theaters and On-Demand since the film got acquired by Vertical Entertainment.

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(From left to right) Stéphane Bak and Marc Zinga in 'The Mercy of the Jungle.' Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Congolese Actor Stéphane Bak on His Intense Experience Shooting 'The Mercy of the Jungle' In Uganda

We catch up with the actor after the film made its North American premiere at TIFF.

When actor Stéphane Bak first got the script for The Mercy of the Jungle (La Miséricorde de la Jungle), he knew there was one person he had to consult: his father. "My dad did school me about this," he says. While Bak was born and raised in France, his parents had emigrated from what was then Zaire in the 1980s—before the events of the movie, and not exactly in the same area, but close enough to be able to pass on firsthand knowledge of the simmering ethnic tensions that underpin the action.

The story takes place in 1998, just after the outbreak of the Second Congo War—which came hot on the heels of the First Congo War. Two Rwandan soldiers find themselves separated from their company and have to make a harrowing trek through the jungle to link back up with their regiment. Bak plays Private Faustin, the young recruit hunting Hutu rebels to avenge his murdered family, a foil to Marc Zinga's seasoned Sergeant Xavier. As a Congolese militia swarms the area, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell enemies from friends, the two are forced off the road and into the thick vegetation.

Their journey is physically difficult, but the jungle also nurtures them, providing food, water, and shelter. "The title is very explicit in a way," says Bak. It is the human beings they encounter, from rival soldiers and militiamen to the hostile security forces guarding illegal gold mining operations, who bring sudden danger and violence. The challenges are conveyed as much through the actors' physicality as through the minimal dialogue. As for the strain on his face, Bak says it was all real. "To be honest, it was very difficult," he says of the shoot, which took him 25 days. "I had to learn my accent in two weeks." Prior to commencing, there was training with the Ugandan army for realism. Due to the ongoing conflicts in the DRC, the movie itself was shot in Uganda.

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Brazil Has Made Yoruba an Official Language

The language will also be incorporated into primary and secondary school curriculum in the country, says the Minister of Culture.

Yoruba history and culture has an undeniably strong presence in Brazilian society, due of course, to the Transatlantic slave trade which brought millions of enslaved West Africans to the Americas. Despite the inhumanity they faced, many managed to keep their ancestral culture and traditions alive.

Centuries have passed, and Yoruba influences still continue to thrive in various regions of the country, as many Brazilians maintain a strong relationship with the language and religion. Its influence can be seen through the music, food and spiritual practices of various communities. Last month the Ooni of Ife—the spiritual leader of the Yoruba people—visited the country, where he was met by crowds of Black Brazilians who turned up to pay their respects.

This connection will likely remain strong for future generations, as the language has now become an official foreign language in the country.

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Brazil's Minister of Culture, Dr. Sérgio Sá Leitão, has said that the language will now be incorporated into primary and secondary school curriculum, reports the Nigerian Voice.

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