In many African countries, homophobia is a large issue. Homosexuality is thought to be “un-African,” something that Western culture is forcing on the populations, and some countries even have laws in place to suppress it. In honor of Pride Month, here is some literature that tackles the experiences of the LGBTQ community in Africa. These novels, memoirs, and anthologies mainly come out of Nigeria and South Africa.
The Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man by Chike Frankie Edozien
This is Nigeria’s first memoir about LGBTQ life. The Lives of Great Men details Edozien’s experience growing up in Nigeria as a gay man and his encounters with his other queer friends. Having traveled within and outside of the continent, and now living in New York and working as a reporter, Edozien tackles the legal climate for gay men and women on the African continent, the impact homophobic American evangelical pastors are having in many countries, and the intersection of that with political populism.
One of the most interesting ideas presented in the work is his change in perception of his queer friends who decided to engage in heterosexual marriages. Having judged them when he was younger as being dishonest, he now recognizes the different views on marriage in Africa and that many people do not marry for love. He recognizes that often gay men in Nigeria will have wives as well as male lovers on the side.
The memoir has been awarded the Lambda Literary Award in the Gay Memoir/Biography category this year at the 30th Lambda Literary Awards. Edozien is also a professor of journalism at New York University and has been awarded the university’s Martin Luther King, Jr Faculty Award for excellence in teaching, community building, social justice advocacy and leadership.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okaparanta
Under the Udala Trees is work of historical fiction which tells the story of the Ijeoma, a young girl who is sent away by her mother during a civil war in Nigeria, when her father is killed during an air raid. She becomes the servant of a grammar-school teacher and his wife. There, Ijeoma meets and falls in love with a girl named Amina, who has been separated from her family in the northern part of the country, and convinces the couple to take Amina in as another housekeeper.
The novel explores young lesbian love under a society that suppresses it. We watch the girls’ attraction develop as they try to suppress their own desire, deal with ideas of forced marriage, and lose each other to the oppressive society. Okaparanta captures the emotional turmoil of coming out when Ijeoma is forced to explain to her mother what happened after the couple finds out and sends her back home.
“I found myself fading into my thoughts. I imagined myself removed from time and place. Or rather, I imagined myself in a place where nothing had happened in the past and nothing was happening now, and in the future nothing would be the consequence of all the nothings that had come before.”
Okaparanta also has a short-story collection, called Happiness, Like Water, that also features lesbian stories which won the prize for Best Lesbian Fiction in 2014 and was short-listed for the Caine Prize.
Fimí Sílè Forever by Nnanna Ikpo
This fiction novel follows two Yoruba lawyers who are human rights activists fighting for a better Nigeria. Olawale, is bisexual and closeted, while Oluwele, his twin is more evidently homosexual. Olawale has spent most of his adult life protecting and defending his brother but when the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) act becomes a law, they and their loved ones are caught in the spotlight.
The novel deals with the political oppression and religious prejudice rampant in Nigeria today while also celebrating the power of love, desire, faith, patriotism, the human rights struggle. It was also short-listed for a Lamba Prize this year in the gay fiction category.
Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction and Queer Africa 2: New Stories
These two books are anthologies that feature queer stories from all over the African continent and the diaspora, including Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, and the USA. The first, Queer Africa, was published in the 2013 and internationally acclaimed. It won the 26th Lambda Literary Award for the fiction anthology category and was translated into Spanish. The follow-up, Queer Africa 2, was short-listed this year for the 30Th Lambda Literary Awards.
Both are published by the MaThoko’s Books, part of the Gay and Lesiban Memory in Action (GALA) which is based in Johannesburg. They are edited by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin.
Featured Image via Flickr/John Nakamura Remy