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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.

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Photo by Michael Kovac/Champagne Collet for Getty Images.

Cynthia Erivo Responds to Stephen King's Tweet on Diversity

The British-Nigerian actress begs to differ with the veteran author's tweet on diversity and 'quality' in this year's Oscar nominations.

British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo has responded to veteran author Stephen King's recent tweets on the issue of diversity and this year's Oscar nominations.

King has been subject to considerable backlash since his controversial tweet about how he would "never consider diversity" when it comes to evaluating art of awards citing that, "It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong."

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Nnedi Okorafor attends the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Nnedi Okorafor's 'Binti' Is Being Developed Into a TV Series at Hulu

The award-winning novella is coming to a screen near you.

Binti, the acclaimed book by award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, is being adapted into a TV series, set to premiere on Hulu. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to break the news.

The three-part, science fiction novella will be adapted for screen under the studio Media Res. The script is being written by both Okorafor and writer Stacy Osei-Kuffour, who has previously written for Watchmen and The Morning Show amongst others.

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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