Three African books have been shortlisted for the 2018 LAMBDA Literary Awards for queer writers: the memoir Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, by Chike Frankie Edozien, for Best Gay Memoir/Biography; the anthology Queer Africa 2: New Stories, edited by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin, for Best LGBTQ Anthology; and the novel Fimi Sile: Forever, by Nnanna Ikpo, for Best Gay Fiction. They join Chinelo Okparanta’s story collection Happiness, Like Water and novel Under the Udala Trees, both of which won Best Lesbian Fiction in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and Joe Okonkwo’s Jazz Moon, shortlisted for Best Gay Fiction in 2017, as well as Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction, the prequel edited also by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin, which won Best LGBTQ Anthology in 2014, in a select group of African books recognized by the world’s pre-eminent LGBTQ writing body.
Organised by Lambda Literary, the US’ oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature, the LAMBDA Literary Awards, currently in its 30th year, “celebrate achievement in LGBTQ writing” across 23 categories. The shortlists—from nearly 1,000 submissions and over 300 publishers—were selected by “67 literary professionals, including booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, academics and previous Lammy winners and finalists” who “volunteered countless hours of reading, critical thinking, and invigorating discussion.”
“Celebrating our 30th year of Lambda Literary Award finalists is to recognize that this organization has been at the center of contemporary queer literature for decades,” said Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela. “This year is no different with another stellar list of authors demonstrating through their work that LGBTQ books tell richly textured stories about who we are in all our incredible diversity.”
Published by MaThoko’s Books, Queer Africa 2: New Stories is the second installment in Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin’s efforts to highlight new African writing about queerness. Introduced by Barbara Boswell, the anthology features Nick Mulgrew, Unoma Azuah, Nancy Lindah Ilamwenya, Barbara Adair, Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene, Emma Paulet, Amatesiro Dore, Alexis Teyie, Thato Magano, Bishara Mohamed, Matshepo Thafeng, Michael Agugom, S Van Rooyen, Jennifer Shinta Ayebazibwe, Wilfred JeanLouis, Zukolwenkosi Zikalala, Juliet Kushaba, Alexander K Opicho, Alistair Mackay, Rafeeat Aliyu, H W Mukami, Ola Osaze, Idza L, Olakunle Ologunro, Victor Lewis, and Jayne Bauling. Here is a description by its publishers:
In Queer Africa 2: New Stories, the 26 stories by writers from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda and the USA present exciting and varied narratives on life. There are stories on desire, disruption and dreams; others on longing, lust and love. The stories are representative of the range of human emotions and experiences that abound in the lives of Africans and those of the diaspora, who identify variously along the long and fluid line of the sexuality, gender and sexual orientation spectrum in the African continent. Centred in these stories and in their attendant relationships is humanity. The writers showcase their artistry in storytelling in thought provoking and delightful ways.
Last October, we brought news of Lives of Great Men and its standing as the first memoir by a Nigerian about LGBTQ life in Nigeria. It drew praise from Ethiopian novelist Maaza Mengiste (“an incredibly powerful portrayal of what it means to be a gay Nigerian man…so outstanding is its tender and insightful exploration of all the complicated, unspoken bonds in our most intimate relationships”); Nigerian novelist and poet Chris Abani (“Frankie Edozien writes with an urgency that is compelling, with a vulnerable honesty that is disarming and impressive, and with elegance about his life and a subject so risky and yet necessary”); and Somali writer and visual artist Diriye Osman (“focuses his pinpoint-sharp lens not only on his own experiences of being a gay Nigerian man, but embeds a very specific generosity of spirit and wisdom”). Its author, New York University journalism professor Chike Frankie Edozien, is currently shortlisted for the 2018 Gerald Kraak Award.
Here is a description of Lives of Great Men by its publishers, Team Angelica.
From Victoria Island, Lagos to Brooklyn, U.S.A. to Accra, Ghana to Paris, France; from across the Diaspora to the heart of the African continent, in this memoir Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien offers a highly personal series of contemporary snapshots of same gender loving Africans, unsung Great Men living their lives, triumphing and finding joy in the face of great adversity. On his travels and sojourns Edozien explores the worsening legal climate for gay men and women on the Continent; the impact homophobic American evangelical pastors are having in many countries, and its toxic intersection with political populism; and experiences the pressures on those living under harshly oppressive laws that are themselves the legacy of colonial rule—pressures that sometimes lead to seeking asylum in the West. Yet he remains hopeful, and this memoir, which is pacy, romantic and funny by turns, is also a love-letter to Africa, above all to Nigeria and the megalopolis that is Lagos.
Nnanna Ikpo’s debut novel Fimi Sile: Forever is blurbed by Binyavanga Wainaina who praises it as “meant for an African audience…a fun read…accurate and interesting.” In an interview with its author, Diriye Osman called it “a tour de force laced with longing, forbidden love and folkloric touches that constitute a textured whole.” Here is a description by its publishers Team Angelica:
Olawale and Oluwole are dreadlocked Yoruba lawyers, minority human rights activists fighting for a better Nigeria. Bisexual and closeted, Olawale has spent his adult life protecting and defending his charismatic, more evidently homosexual twin; but when the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act becomes law, they, their family, and the women who love them are caught in a savage spotlight that threatens to wreck all their lives. In the midst of this Wole and Wale must deal with an estranged convict father whose unexpected reappearance brings dark and troubling family secrets to light.
Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever celebrates the enduring power of love, desire, faith, patriotism and human rights struggle in the face of political oppression and religious prejudice in Nigeria today. It extends the literary conversation begun by Jude Dibia and continued by Chinelo Okparanta.
The shortlists constitute a big win for publishers Team Angelica who released both Lives of Great Men and Fimi Sile: Forever. But it is an even bigger win for literature by Africans humanizing queerness, a category whose very existence has been questioned on unfounded political grounds. Given her two wins for consecutive fiction books, Chinelo Okparanta’s is the African name most associated with the LAMBDA Awards—the other being the Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin-edited Queer Africa, with its 2014 win. So this recognition of three books in a single year—an anthology, a memoir, and a novel—is a massive leap. After all, what’s better than two trailblazers? Three. Four. Fifty.
The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony on Monday, June 4th, at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
Congratulations to Chike Frankie Edozien, Makhosazana Xaba, Karen Martin, and Nnanna Ikpo!