Lives of Great Men: A discussion about a memoir

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

I wrote this book because it was urgent to set the record straight about gay men and women in Africa not really existing. For too long we’ve been in the shadows, and I believe it was time for our leaders, friends, allies, and even detractors to see us depicting ourselves in a proud, happy light: owning the fullness of our existence and not needing permission to be free.The times we live in necessitate this urgency.

For too long our stories, our hurts, and the fullness of our existence has been continually diminished. Something needed to be done and in my primary vocation as a journalist, the only thing I knew how to do was to tell the story. And I’d done bits of it from the daily harassment and humiliation of a Trans activist in Kampala to the open derision of men and women who dared have some measure of openness about their lives in Accra and Takoradi. But it wasn’t enough. The few nuanced articles come and go, and they get drowned out by louder, fearful voices. Voices with a bigger megaphone that is the radio, newspapers and television. It seemed to me to be truly a tyranny of the majority. 

I had to do something different. And the result of that was to momentarily ‘kill the journalist’ and turn the mirror on myself and ask the hard questions of me  and of my friends. I toyed with the idea of a documentary and may still do that at some point. But when I kept hearing — repeated by those who refuse to see their African sisters and brothers in their full humanity — some variation of ‘there are no gays here’ or ‘it was brought here by the imperialists or colonisers’ or ‘not in our culture’, the work became more and more urgent, and it comes through in my book.

Hout Bay public library in Cape Town, South Africa

I never want an African to feel like there is anyplace on our continent where their full humanity is diminished by the loud voices of those who would rather not see them. This is what has been happening and has led to an exodus of wonderful, brilliant, creative, and very talented men and women who simply cannot take it anymore. That we are losing our most precious resources – our own magnificent minds — is an urgent problem, and hopefully Lives gets to help change the conversation and give people a sense that we all matter, and our diversity isn’t a thing to shy away from.

My goal was never to shine a particular light on me; merely an accurate one. I haven’t always been good, and I don’t even know if outside of my family and close friends, if people think I’m ‘good’. But what I am is a multifaceted Nigerian, who happens to recognise that many of the people I come across and befriend are also complex with good and not-so-good sides. It’s an odd thing to say about a memoir, and it might not make much sense, but I’ll say it anyway: this work is not all about me. It’s about us. And we are not always good. Sometimes we are bad. Sometimes we are devious. Sometimes we are cunning. And often we are just awesome.

–Chiké Frankie Edozien

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:


You can find more about his work with the university here and at his personal website and Twitter @FrankieEdozien.

Be sure to check back for more information about Lives of Great Men, and follow @LGBTHM for more news!

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