The OUTing the Past Comms team had the privilege of speaking with journalist and educator Chiké Frankie Edozien at this year’s OTP Festival Conference in Liverpool. Edozien will be returning to the UK for the ‘Africa Writes Conference’ at the British Library in London (29. June-02. July); before catching him there, you can check out his work — his most recent project, Lives of Great Men, will be detailed on the Festival Blog over the next three months leading up to the conference.
Lives of Great Men: a groundbreaking debut
Lives of Great Men has been receiving rave reviews and lauded for putting ‘the fierce into black queer history’ — and perhaps most groundbreaking is its distinction of being the first gay memoir written by a Nigerian man: Chiké Frankie Edozien. Now serving as a lecturer at New York University, Edozien’s journey is testament to hard work and dedication: leaving Nigeria as a young man, he bounced from London to New York, working odd-jobs before getting his start at the New York Post. It was during that time Edozien reported on the racially-charged murder of Amandou Diallo by the NYPD (1999). He has subsequently reported, written, and lectured across the world, culminating in his current position at NYU and as Director of Reporting Africa. Despite painful lows encountered and recounted throughout his work, Lives of Great Men is not all doom and gloom — with a personality like Edozien’s, it could never be that way. Diana Evans of The Financial Times praises his writing for ‘reclaiming his own narrative and that of the wider gay community from the muffling jaws of discrimination with a sense of humour, guts and elegance’.
The OUTing the Past 2018 Academic Conference was lucky to have the Edozien join as a guest and panel chair during international activism plenaries. One could not help but notice one of the characteristics that has led to his success as a journalist and educator: the active investment in those with whom he interacts. While chairing conversations between Festival-goers and activists from Africa and Eastern Europe, he played the perfect captain, applying the necessary pressure to steer conversation — no small feat when academics are involved — and kept care to focus on the goal of the plenary panels: to highlight the incredible work of international activists and how their greater communities can contribute to and support conversations and campaigns fighting for equality. This dedication and goal is reflected in Lives of Great Men and its achievements.
A recurring theme that pops up throughout Edozien’s work and personal testimony is one of the most important forces behind the fight for equality: hope. In the face of repressive legislation, oppressive policing, and societal pressures, Edozien continues to search for and find the glimmer of hope, which drives activists, journalists, and communities to push for change. In his memoir, Edozien relays the feeling of hope he felt at South African Ambassador Jerry Matilja’s words:
We will fight discrimination, everywhere, every time. We cannot discriminate against people because of their own lifestyle or intention. That we cannot do in South Africa.
And this fight isn’t exclusive to politics, top-down decrees, or being content with any small steps already made. The fight can be taken to the everyday means of producing culture, as Edozien recounts in the memoir:
… back home in Nigeria I am filled with hope when a leading Nigerian online publication, Pulse.ng, calls out Nollywood, our robust film industry, opining that the ‘representation of homosexuality in most Nollywood movies is at best a caricature attempt at bad comedy.’ I have to admit that I used to be of the mindset that, even if it is a poor depiction, at least there is one, especially since many habitually say we gay people do not exist in Nigeria, and in all the years that Nollywood has been churning out films – movies that are sought after all over the continent – we have rarely been seen. But the depiction of Nigerian gay men as bearded effeminates sporting bright red lipstick and making exaggerated arm movements is not funny, nor is it remotely the norm, and I now feel that if Nollywood is going to depict us, then they had better do it right. We are not going to be the butt of their jokes. And clearly the editors at Pulse don’t recognize the caricatures on screen either.
The determination to continue to push for equality and justice, ability and desire to find hope, even in the face of atrocities and pushback, are some of the remarkable messages to be gleaned from Edozien’s work, as well as interacting with him personally. Speaking with Diriye Osman of The Huffington Post, Edozien, with that sense sense of humour and elegance with which he writes, answers whether he has ‘lived a full life’:
No, I’m still living! And I hope to live bigger and continue to take every day recognizing that it is a gift. A gift I don’t take lightly, so why waste time not living fully. And for me that means a life of learning, service, and joy.
Chiké Frankie Edozien currently serves as a Clinical Associate Professor at New York University (NYC, USA), as well as the Director of Reporting Africa.
Lives of Great Men (Team Angelica Press) is available via the following links: