At the 2015 Pen World Voices Festival in New York, Frankie Edozien was still working on his book. Lola Shoneyin, the director of the Ake Arts and Book Festival had urged him to “hurry up and finish.” But sometimes books take a life of their own.

The Lives of Great Men is Edozien’s debut nonfiction book. For someone that’s been in journalism for over 20 years and currently serves as the Director, Reporting Africa at the New York University, one would argue that a book is long overdue. Edozien’s defence however was “this book needed to be done right. In everything I do, I want to ensure that the final work product is as close to perfection as I can make it.”

Edozien’s book is a memoir on what it means to be a gay man in Africa. In a continent that’s accepted the Western notion of Christianity but rejected homosexuality Edozien says: “We’ve seen governments exploit in some fashion, the fear of the gays and it helps them turn the attention away from the fact that they haven’t adequately produced bread, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals.” Countries such as Uganda have established agencies that hunt down gay men.

Read: What South Africans really think about gay rights and homosexuality

The Huffington Post said of The Lives of Great Men, “From Lagos to Brooklyn to Accra to Paris, his memoir is a tenderly constructed cloth bearing the imprints of unsung gay men living their lives, triumphing and finding joy in the face of intense adversity. Their greatness is derived from their fortitude, and it’s heartening to come across a book where marginalized members of a given community are being honoured with such tenderness and graça.”

Frankie Edozien
Lives of Great Men front cover. Photo: Frankie Edozien

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Edozien would be the first Nigerian to write a nonfiction book on being gay. An excerpt from his book was recently published in Quartz Africa. Part of the excerpt reads:

And 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. 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.

For Edozien, writing this book was a labour of love and he hopes the book would allow for many “good conversations.” The Lives of Great Men is a celebration of African lives.