Chike Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men (2017) is the first memoir by a Nigerian about LGBTQ life.

Dear Queer Nigerian Writers,

I love you. I have come to know you by way of the Gerald Kraak Anthologies. Through the love you gave to “The Clumsy Binyavanga Wainaina in Johannesburg.” And through your chronicles on Facebook. I am a southerner from the foot of the continent. If we are the sole of Africa, you are the soul of the continent. From down here, I imagine you up there. Waging warriors. Daring your persecutors. Fighting for space to breathe. Inch by inch. Falling, dying, witnessing, rising, writing. Drowning under the tide of the vilest forms of homophobia. Gasping. Pretty, hard, wary, fierce, soft. Writing through it. Resolute, tired, refusing, cataloguing, recording, battered, wizened, talented.

And beautiful.

Because the beautiful ones have been born.

I write from a place of freedom. Shitty freedom, but freedom nonetheless. I can’t imagine the place from which you write. But your witnessing allows me in. Through your writing, I see the brutality and callous disregard for your beautiful existence. Romeo. I see you. Obi. You are a force. Pwaangulongii. Your talent radiates. Your shine illuminates the continent. You will not die. Edozien. The heartbeat. The queer women. Chinelo. Claiming our spaces under the udala trees. Azuah. Your night songs see us through. Laura Ahmed. The lifeblood. Refusing to die. All of you who cannot be named. We see you. Your queer gasp sustains the continent. Viva.

Brittle Paper. This is our salute. We see you. Your work is about life giving literature. The very best kind.

Nationalism is a curse bequeathed to us by ancient homophobes and perpetuated by the newer insecure bigots of today. It closes down African horizons and domesticates our love. In the borderlands, hate sprouts and proliferates. If Africa were queer, she would be an open country marked by pink inviting shores. We in the south would care when a queer person’s head was smashed in and their humiliation paraded on social media. As a lesson on how not to be African. But you are Africans who will not be cowed from claiming your place at the table of humanity as full humans.

Human. An African humanist from my home province once dreamed that we would be a demonstration of a more human face. Not a tolerable face. Certainly not a violent one. The Haitian Revolution of our forebears was not a victory for hate. The Kenyan campaign against colonialism was to obliterate hate. When we hoisted the Black Star in Ghana, it was to mark the triumph of love. Bessie Head wrote through maddening conditions so that we who came after her might have life. The Nigerian hustle is for survival. Not death. You teach us the lesson of ingenuity when the state fails. I admire the Nigerian stride. It reminds me of James Baldwin’s confidence—cocky style. The Nigerian strut is not that of the patriarch’s shame. Baldwin’s ancestors’ were West African. I don’t know it for sure. But I feel it. Homophobes will kill African-born Baldwins if they had their way. But they must heed Pwaangulongii’s warning: Africa’s future has no space for stupid black men. The future will be courageous and loving. It will be so bold as to declare a Fuck Hate Queer Day.

My message of love to Nigerian queers is impassioned but of no immediate utility against the haters. Still, I recall that in their times of exasperation and love, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, and others in the diaspora and here wrote such letters to say: I see you. I love you. Here is to strength, fortitude and solidarity.


In enraged love,

Hugo kaCanham,

From the Foot of Africa.



About the Writer:

Hugo kaCanham is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. In his dreams, he is a writer. He loves Johannesburg, Lusikisiki, Maputu, Kigali, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Harlem, the weak and the brave. He will love Lagos. He has published work in Transition, Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, and in academic journals, and he blogs on HugokaCanham: Identities in Flux. He has no regard for grammar.