A Look at Queer Literature from Nigerian Writers

by - 19:58

Earlier today, I was one of many platforms that had the absolute pleasure of revealing the cover of Cassava Republic Press' forthcoming collection, She Called Me Woman: Nigeria's Queer Women Speak. A few hours after posting it I started thinking more broadly about queer narratives in/from Nigerian literature, and how over the years there seems to be an increasing visibility in Nigerian literary spaces. First, a little trip down memory lane. 

Illustration from Bingo Love: A Black Queer Romance Graphic Novel
Back in 2012, I first explored LGBTQ African literature in two posts. The first post included works such as The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs by Damon Galgut which explores being gay in a macho society and K Sello Duiker's The Quiet Violence of Dreams looking at a male sex-worker and the gay underworld in Cape Town. The second post featured Andre Aciman's Call Me By Your Name about a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between a young boy and a summer guest at his parent's cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera and Jude Dibia's Walking with Shadows - the only book by a Nigerian writer I featured in these earlier posts. And - as far as I am aware - the first Nigerian to write a book with a (positive portrayal) of a main gay character. 

Walking With Shadows was first published in 2005, and in the synopsis 

Ebele Njoko had survived a forlorn and poignant childhood, concealing a secret he could not explain and craving the love and approval of his parents. Years later he reinvents himself and is now known and respected as Adrian Njoko, father, husband, brother and mentor. One phone call and his life as he knows it is changed forever. In coming to terms with his dark secret Adrian is forced to choose between keeping his family or accepting a life of possible loneliness and rejection.

And now back to the present. Well, here are five recent books from Nigerian writers centred on queer narratives. Brittle Paper have also published on what they refer to as 'Literature Humanising Queerness', as well as two other e-collections on queer experiences in Nigeria - Vol 1 and Vol 2 of the Anthology of Queer Art. 

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (2015)
Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls.When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie. Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees uses one woman's lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.

Blessed Body by Unoma Azuah (2016)
This Nigerian collection of testimonies and autobiographical vignettes span the arduous lives of contemporary LGBT Nigerians at home and in diaspora, both men and women, all courageous narrators who attempt to put a name on their attraction, consulting dictionaries, Internet sites, social media networks, and to place their outing moment in all-girl schools, Universities, Churches, nighttime trading haunts. While the stories boldly sketch the kama sutra of same-sex desire and love in West Africa, lined with the dark specter of AIDS and prostitution, they also draw us into a web of online friendships while a beneficent God amiably eavesdrops on his dissident flock.

When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola (2017)
Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. Its 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local "wannabe" thugs just for being different. When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he's never known. Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls headlong for his feisty cousin Janoma. Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself in its midst, leading to a near-tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.When We Speak of Nothing launches a powerful new voice onto the literary stage.The fluid prose, peppered with contemporary slang, captures what it means to be young, black and queer in London. If grime music were a novel, it would be this.

Lives of Great Men by Chike Frankie Edozien (2017)
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 evangelical American pastors are having in many countries, and its toxic intersection with political populism; and experiences the pressures placed 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.

*The next book was brought to my attention by a comment on this post, so updating the post to include it.

Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever by Nnnann Ikpo
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.

While I am yet to read the last entry - it comes out in the UK in November - I am including it in this list, as from my understanding it has a non-confirming character, which further adds to the current queer narratives from Nigeria in general, and Africa more broadly. As recently described in a Vox review of the book:
It's about finding home within liminal spaces - between genders, between life and death, between god and human - and finding a way to play within them
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (2018)
Ada was born with one foot on the other side. Having prayed her into existence, her parents Saul and Saachi struggle to deal with the volatile and contradictory spirits peopling their troubled girl. When Ada comes of age and heads to college, the entities within her grow in power and agency. An assault leads to a crystallization of her selves: As'ghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves - now protective, now hedonistic - seize control of Ada, her life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction. Narrated from the perspectives of the various selves within Ada, and based in the author's realities, Freshwater explores the metaphysics of identity and being. 

*All book synopsis via Amazon

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