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Chike Frankie Edozien at the LAMBDA Literary Awards on 4 June.

Chike Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man has won the LAMBDA Literary Award for Gay Memoir. 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. 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 memoir was one of three African books on the shortlists, including the anthology Queer Africa 2: New Stories, edited by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin and up for Best LGBTQ Anthology, and the novel Fimi Sile: Forever, by Nnanna Ikpo, up for Best Gay Fiction.

Lives of Great Men has drawn praise from notable African literary figures, from Maaza Mengiste to Chris Abani to Diriye Osman. Maaza Mengiste wrote one of the blurbs:

Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men is an incredibly powerful portrayal of what it means to be a gay Nigerian man. But what makes this book so outstanding is its tender and insightful exploration of all the complicated, unspoken bonds in our most intimate relationships. In prose that is at once engaging and inquisitive, Edozien holds the human heart to light and finds the ways it manages to survive despite it all.

Chris Abani wrote the second blurb:

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. This is not a memoir of coming out gay in Nigeria as much as it is a call to step into our humanity. A necessary and courageous book.

Describing it as “a tenderly constructed cloth” in Huffington Post, Diriye Osman hails Edozien’s ability “to create tableaux and scenes that sing”:

He 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 in his documentation of his same-gender loving African brothers across the continent and the Diaspora. Their greatness is derived from their fortitude, and it’s heartening to come across a book where marginalized members of a given community are being honoured with such tenderness and graça.

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.

A professor of journalism at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, Chike Frankie Edozien was last year awarded the university’s Martin Luther King, Jr Faculty Award for excellence in teaching, community building, social justice advocacy and leadership. Since 2008, he has directed the Institute’s Ghana-based “Reporting Africa” program. He has written about government, health and cultural issues for The New York TimesThe Times (UK), Vibe magazine, Time magazine, Out TravelerBlackaids.org, The AdvocateQuartz, among others. He co-founded the AFRican magazine and was its editor-in-chief. A 2008 Kaiser Foundation fellow for Global Health Reporting for his reporting on the impact of HIV/AIDS particularly among Africans, Edozien has also covered crime, courts, labor issues, human services, public health and politics at New York Post and its City Hall Reporter. Currently, he contributes to the Arise News Network where he reports weekly on issues in sub-Saharan Africa. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Gerald Kraak Award.

It is a landmark moment, this expansion of the queer oeuvre in Nigerian literature. The first novel by a Nigerian about queer Nigerians came in 2005: Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows. The first poetry chapbook by a Nigerian about queer Nigerians came an agonizing eleven years later in 2016: Romeo Oriogun’s Burnt Men, published by Praxis magazine. In 2016, also, we had an anthology of LGBTQ real life struggles in Nigeria: Blessed Body: The Secret Lives of LGBT Nigerian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, edited by Unoma Azuah. And in 2017, Nigeria’s first LGBTQ literary collective, 14, released a beautiful anthology, We Are Flowers, followed by another this year, The Inward Gaze, both published by us.

The paucity of literature about queer Nigerians prompted our second Anniversary Conversation on Facebook: “Un-Silencing Queer Nigeria: The Language of Emotional Truth,” featuring some of the country’s young, newly notable writers. In this scarcity, Edozien’s memoir carves a path of its own. In an email to us last year, he shared the story behind the book:

A series of things pushed me to do this book. Back in 2011 I wrote a piece for Colorlines that explored how Ghana’s gay community that had been left alone for eons had faced a serious backlash and gay bashing as a result of what seemed like a sudden evangelical fervour that was anti anything that didn’t fit in their norms of ‘tradition’.

The following year I started to see the same kind of fervour take over public policy and I noticed how friends of mine or people I was meeting were fleeing their countries and seeking asslyum due to a smothering wave of anti gay sentiments. I noticed even more how men and women of timber and caliber, as one would say, would give up careers and head to other countries to make them better. It saddened me because some of these folks were super talented and weren’t seeking asylum but were at the top of their fields. They turned to the West and Asia who mined their talents for the good of their own countries and Nigeria and other African countries were left out of their expertise.

Sadly this brain drain is hard to be stopped if public policy by say, our Nigerian government, says people have to be criminalized just because they are different.

It was also important for me to document the struggle and experience of loads of people I know who have entered into heterosexual marriages as a means to have peace. As a means to get promoted, as a means to simply stop the being ostracized but social and family groups just because they dare to expose their hearts.

Lives of Great Men‘s elegant cover is designed by John Russell Gordon of Team Angelica, who is also an artist. It is meant to reflect the title: an image of a man gazing up at great achievers. The book was launched on 23 November in London and on 30 November at New York University’s Africa House. This year, it was shortlisted for the Publishing Triangle Awards.

This LAMBDA win sees it join Chinelo Okparanta’s short story collection Happiness, Like Water and novel Under the Udala Treesboth of which won Best Lesbian Fiction in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction, edited by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin, which won Best LGBTQ Anthology in 2014, and Joe Okonkwo’s Jazz Moon, shortlisted for Best Gay Fiction in 2017, in a select group of African books awarded by the world’s pre-eminent LGBTQ literary body.

Congratulations to Chike Frankie Edozien!

See a full list of the winners HERE.

Buy Lives of Great Men HERE.

Check Out Photos from Its London Launch.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017). His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies and Pop Culture, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

One Response to “Chike Frankie Edozien’s Lives Of Great Men Wins LAMBDA Award for Gay Memoir” Subscribe

  1. Wale 2018/06/05 at 11:22 #

    Congrats i guess

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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