The Nigerian literary industry is clearly bereft of stories about queerness and homosexuality. That absence can be laid firmly at the feet of a religious society that bristles at the mere mention of otherness and an industry only struggling to find its place as Nigeria’s conscience and tasked with the burden of balancing profit with social responsibility. But things are changing and books like Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala trees which had a lesbian main protagonist and did very well locally and internationally challenge the notion that no one wants to read these stories.
In July 2017, Cassava Republic will publish the Nigerian edition of novelist Olumide Popoola’s new novel ‘When We Speak Of Nothing’ which features a queer Nigerian protagonist and takes place in Port Harcourt and London following the 2011 London Riots and will feature a chorus of voices. This is what the press packet says of the book.
As with Moonlight, the recent Oscar-winning film, When We Speak of Nothing subtly challenges stereotypes of black masculinity, portraying the intimacy of friendship rather than the brash edges of delinquency and disorder. The book is a parable for our times, speaking to rising racial intolerance and the cliff edge of Brexit, and set against the increasing interconnectedness of experience enabled by technology and migration.
Personally, I’m keeping my hopes moderate. The Nigeria’s obsession with migrations and Nigerians settling into a life in the diaspora is a trope that has obviously already popped up in this book, and which I personally suspect will overshadow whatever queer narratives will happen in the book and I am holding out for a book that just explores queerness without some ‘larger’ cultural event being the foil through which we engage queerness. Jude Dibia’s ‘Walking With Shadows’ is the closest we’ve come to a novel that is that honest about othersexuality.
But either way I will be reading the book when it comes out. So should you.