An Interview with Frankie Edozien 2018 Lambda Literary Award Winner
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Chiké Frankie Edozien learned to read from the newspapers his father brought home daily. He grew up to become an ink-stain scribbler telling the stories of others in service of a greater good. Edozien currently teaches journalism at New York University. Prior to that, he was an award-winning metro reporter in New York City.
His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Quartz, Time Magazine, The Times (UK) GlobalPost, Out Traveler, Edge, Colorlines, Vibe Magazine, the New York Amsterdam News, the Advocate and more.
He is a contributor to the 2016 Commonwealth Writers anthology, Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction and in 2017 his ‘Last night in Asaba’ was published by Jalada Africa/Transitions.
He is the author of the groundbreaking memoir ‘Lives of Great Men:’ Living & Loving As An African Gay Man which won the 2018 Lambda Literary award for biography/memoir.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s usher in our guest for today: Welcome sir! Nice to have you on the SyncityNG Literary Lords and Ladies show
Thanks so very much!
First question: What made you release the book? Any reason why you felt it was time to put the book out?
The impetus for the book was simple. As a journalist I had seen the swift changes in mood, and tolerance of difference all around the continent. It seemed that in many countries it was becoming fashionable to demonize brothers and sisters who are a little different.
And so, when it became more a case of the brute force of the state going against its own citizens and the excuse was always, that sexual diversity was alien to our culture, it was time to put words to paper and say, uhm, hang on a minute.
So, I felt it was my duty to give voice to the voiceless and to the millions of people on our continent who support and love their brothers and sisters. All voices and all stories are valid not simply the loudest voices.
People say the West is more tolerating of our loved ones who are “different”. How true is this based on your experience?
Well many countries around the world, not just in the West, have figured out that human sexuality and its diversity is not something to be criminalized and systems have been put in place to ensure equal treatment under the law.
But that doesn’t mean it is always smooth sailing. One of the things that should be important for us is that no African anywhere should feel unwelcome on our continent. And that cannot happen fully until laws and in place for equal treatment.
However one of the things I try to point out in Lives of Great Men is the amount of support and the allies that are out there. They exist. They may be few but they are out there and I salute them.
You left Nigeria when you were 19.
1. What influenced the decision to move?
2. Are there plans of settling here?
I left Nigeria to go and study abroad and I currently teach in a university in New York but the fact is when I’m not working, I’m shuttling between Lagos and Delta. My feet are planted in Nigeria even though the bulk of my income comes from outside.
So the best response I could give is I work in New York and Accra Ghana but my homes are in Lagos and Delta.
What is your opinion about the Nigerian literary scene? Are we there yet?
You’ll have to tell me what “there” is for me to be able to answer that accurately. But you must acknowledge the incredible output of writers, poets, dramatists and publishers at this very moment and find ways to give this vital industry your support.
You have a community of engaged readers and writers and critics and bloggers (Brittle paper ) so I love the literary scene and I hope everything can be done to stock our libraries and make books affordable for all by the powers that be.
Tell us about the Lambda Literary Awards. How did that win for “Lives of a Great Men” come about?
It is such a great honor to be a @LambdaLiterary winner and no one was more shocked than I was. I knew that the massively talented Chinelo Okpranta had won before and we were just thrilled to bits to be nominated, which itself is a great accolade to be shortlisted.
Among the thousands of books released in the last year, having Lives of Great Men be recognized validated all the hard work that went into it and now I can sit back and believe @kinnareads when she tells me that I did a good job.
Let’s talk about your book. For those who don’t have a copy, reach out to Ouida Books. Kindly give us a synopsis
I will try to condense 100,000 works into a few characters. Lives of Great Men is at its heart a memoir of my life as well as a tribute to the great women and men living in contemporary Africa and the diaspora who make choices to remain true to themselves. Despite the myriad of obstacles thrown in their way from avoiding being ostracized to being free to love, free to care, and walking with dignity even when forces around want to strip them of it.
It is also about the massive loss of talent among women and men who simply go to the West or Asia and shine bright, build societies and live big elsewhere because our countries have turned their backs to some of their citizens.
I also like to think of it as a love letter to the wonderful city of Lagos that shapedme into the man I am today.
Wow! All this in one book? Lives of Great Men indeed! How did @OuidaBooks come into the equation?
Yes, please ask @OuidaBooks to let you know when you can buy multiple copies for all your friends and family. I’m not sure of a better gift one can give at this moment. Then after that, you can ask your local libraries to stock them! PLEASE.
@PaIkhide believes that African Prizes and their shortlists leave a lot to be desired. Do you agree?
I will respectfully not speak on things I know not.
It’s time for us to take questions from our audience. Here’s one from @SlateTab: “@FrankieEdozien @SynCityNG, Are there plans to put ‘Lives of Great Men’ on a digital platform? Is translation to other languages in the works?”
The question of a digital or ebook version in Nigeria will be answered in due course by @OuidaBooks but all I can say with a smiling winking face is stay tuned.
Here’s another one from @mystiquesynn: “Hello @FrankieEdozien @SynCityNG, Quick question: How did your experience as a journalist help shape the writing of this book?”
Sure. I need to use everything I had learned about accuracy and rigor and being tenacious to get to the kind of work I would have been happy with. I was not going to rush a project of manuscript that did not meet the exacting standards I expect from those I teach or edit so it needed to be done right and planned out and extensively reported before I could sit down and work on the prose presentation.
We have an anonymous question here: “For us gays who are still hiding in Nigeria, why aren’t you back here helping us?”
I am. And I will continue to do so. But just because you don’t see a press release or a twitter for every action, or a big announcement doesn’t mean that nothing is being done or that I’m not there. I see you. I validate you with zero judgments. Keep hope alive.
“See the ‘Seal’ more in him. Guess, he has just been ‘kissed by the magical rose’ which makes him more of a Seal’s artistic sibling, lol!!”
What advice do you have for members of the LGBT community who are not as open and free as you are?
Sometimes we may have to scream and yell other times we may need dialogue and other times we may simply need to talk softly but carry a really huge stick to pummel our way through. All are valid if we know what we want.
On a lighter note @LibraryImpactNG and @ellanigeriana think you look like Seal the American musician.
As far as I know @seal is still Nigerian…
Last words before we call it a night? Show is almost over. I don’t want to go.
Thanks for having me. Remember that our brothers and sisters are need to pulled closer not driven away. Stand up for what you believe in. Speak out even when unpopular and do get Lives of Great Men from @OuidaBooks if you do nothing else. Get it. Gift it. Live it.
Alright. This has been a great session with @FrankieEdozien the 2018 winner of the @Lambdaliterary awards. An expert journalist, he has contributed to several platforms
Thanks so much for having me. Please continue to show support for writers, editors, publishers and all in the industry by buying, reading and gifting books!
This interview originally happened on Twitter. Follow the #SyncityNGLLL every Monday evening to be a part of the conversation.