Chiké Frankie Edozien kicked off the penultimate day of Afrolit Sans Frontières on Instagram from Accra, Ghana on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
The Afrolit Sans Frontiers Virtual Literary Festival is an initiative from writers of African origin curated by Zukiswa Wanner. Sixteen writers from 10 African countries are sharing their work from 15 different cities in English, French, Lingala, and Portuguese to a global virtual audience online over eight days. Since the festival started on Monday, audiences have interacted with Richard Ali Mutu in Kinshasa, DR Congo, Leye Adenle in London, UK, Rémy Ngamije in Windhoek, Namibia, Hawa Jande Golakai in Monrovia, Liberia, Maaza Mengiste in Zurich, Switzerland, Mukoma Wa Ngugi in Ithaca, New York, USA, Nozizwe Cynthia Jele in Johannesburg, Yara Monteiro in Alentejo, Portugal, Bisi Adjapon in Accra, Ghana, novelist Mohale Mashigo in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Shadreck Chikoti in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Chiké Frankie Edozien, the first participant in the virtual literary festival on Sunday, author of the memoir Lives of Great Men: Living & Loving As An African Gay Man which won the Lambda Literary Award in 2018. His story Shea Prince was a Gerald Kraak Finalist and part of its As You Like It anthology which also garnered a ‘Lammy’ in 2019. His Last night in Asaba, alongside other stories from around Africa, has been anthologized in The Heart of The Matter.
Edozien, who streamed from Accra his first Instagram Live, started by introducing himself and his writing to those who had joined in. Following in the day’s theme of “displacements and micro-orgasms,” he read a passage from his memoir featuring an old friend (and lover) called Etienne. Etienne was a man from DR Congo he met two decades ago in Paris, France when he was doing a study abroad program. The part Chike read came from when he reconnected with his old friend two decades later. With the reading over, the Q&A part of the session could begin.
Chike noted that it is very difficult for people like his friend Etienne to move back to his home country of DR Congo and live an openly gay life. Even in Europe, some have to leave the African immigrant community as they are ostracized for being their true self.
On his writing method, Chike comes from a journalism background where he was trained to write very fast. He tends to write in the afternoons and evenings with noise around him. Lives of Great Men, for instance, was mainly written in public libraries in New York and Cape Town. For the longer-form, he takes notes in his blue notebooks and lets them marinate before refining them.
On whether he thought it difficult or liberating writing about sex between men as a black African man, he felt it was the latter as many portrayals of Africans lives are not always nuanced. He was happy to show people as complicated and as messy as they could be. He advised aspiring writers to be honest when writing about sex. One shouldn’t write sex scenes, he advised, but people who are in love with one another having sex.
Women who were married to men in the closet also feature in his book. In the societies that he is familiar with like Nigeria and Ghana, marriage is not only about love but is about much more like linking families, promotions and more. Some of the wives are not in it by choice as they are not valued in society until they are married.
The book has been received in a very positive light, not so much by some newspaper reviewers who would not touch it, but from actual readers. Those who feature in the book like Etienne and his partner, and others, also read the book and liked it. It has also opened a whole new world of possibilities especially when he was nominated for and won the Lambda Literary Award as it opened him to new bookstores and markets.
As a journalist and now as a teacher, Chike Frankie Edozien doesn’t see his work as activism but as a storyteller in service. He feels that if service makes you an activist then it’s all well and good.
On whether he had any new work coming out, he shared that when he moved to Accra his home was burgled within a week. The thief stole a bag with a computer and two hard drives, one of which had e new manuscript that he had been working on. Sadly the manuscript, which will be about marriage, will have to be rewritten from scratch.
He felt that it is our duty to tell our bookstores to get the amazing books by writers from Africa that are out there. We should also demand more books on Audible for people to have access to African writing. While on lockdown, we should consider the African literary canon in its entirety including classics like Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo who recently turned 80.
A Ghanaian commenter who attended the Ake Festival and saw freedom for people of all sexual persuasions asked if Nigeria was freer for queer people than Ghana. Chike answered that the Ake Festival had created a free space that Nigeria as a country should aspire to. Both Nigeria and Ghana have serious problems with homophobia and there is still a long way to go before we deal with this.
Bonus: You can also watch a video that Chike sent us to share in case power became tricky at his Accra, Ghana base.