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Queer African Lit: A Brief Introduction

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

I am still fairly new to the world of queer African lit, and I already know it’s going to be a lifelong reading love and project of mine. These books are just a small sampling of all the queer African lit that’s out there — an appetizer, if you will. I’ve included both fiction and nonfiction, as well as books in various genres, from both African and African diasporic writers. I’ve also purposely chosen books by writers from eight different countries. Nigeria is an absolute powerhouse of publishing, and I could have easily stacked this list with incredible queer books just from Nigeria. Instead, I’ve chosen just one, because I want to highlight how many queer writers there are from all over the African continent.

Despite the richness of queer African lit, publishing still has a long way to go when it comes to promoting these books and making them available internationally. There are still plenty of small press books that haven’t been published or distributed in the U.S., as well as books that haven’t been translated into English. I can only hope more and more of these boos will become more widely known because they have so much to offer.

I also want to shout out a few of the many African Bookstagrammers who are constantly flooding my TBR (@queerafricanreads, @pretty_x_bookish, and @lipglossmaffia), as well as the great guide to queer African lit put together by @half_book_and_co.

A graphic of the cover of La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, Translated by Lawrence Schimel (Equatorial Guinea)

This slim novel follows a queer teenager as she slowly begins to build a life for herself outside of the strict expectations and norms placed on her by her grandparents and culture. It’s a painful coming-of-age story that doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, but it’s ultimately a story about hope, freedom, and found family.

Cover of God's Children are Little Broken Things

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu (Nigeria)

This short story collection is about everyday queer life in Nigeria. The characters are mostly gay men, and the stories center their romantic and familial relationships. The way Ifeakandu balances queer joy and queer suffering is really extraordinary. There’s a lot of everyday pain in these stories, but there is also a lot of love, care, and poignant scenes of ordinary domestic tenderness.

Cover of Fairytales for Lost Children

Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman (Somalia)

Diriye Osman is a British Somali writer whose genre-bending debut collection illuminates the lives of young queer Somalis, both in their home country and in the diaspora. His characters grapple with what family, relationships, identity, and what it means to belong, or not belong, to a place or a country. Osman is also an artist, and his illustrations appear throughout, adding another layer to the whole collection.

Cover of Salvation Army

Salvation Army by Abdellah Taïa, Translated by Frank Stock (Morocco)

This coming-of-age novel follows a young gay man in Morocco from his childhood through to his adulthood. Taïa writes about life with his family as a boy in a small Moroccan city, his growing self-awareness as a teenager in Tangiers, and his experiences as a gay Arab man at university in Europe. Loosely autobiographical, it’s a moving story as well as a vitally important work of queer Arab literature.

Cover of Stories of Our Lives

Stories of Our Lives by The Nest Collective (Kenya)

The Nest Collective is a group of multidisciplinary Kenyan artists. In 2013, they traveled throughout the country talking to queer Kenyans about their lives. This book collects 250+ of those narratives. These short profiles touch on family life, politics, relationships, faith, gender, art, work, intimacy, and more. They also made a film based on these interviews!

The Sex Lives of African Women book cover

The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana)

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is Ghanaian, but the interviews she’s collected here are from women all over the African continent and the diaspora. They share stories of love, sex, relationships, and intimacy. Some of them are about hard topics like abuse and sexual assault. Others are about discovery, self-love, and healing. It’s a wonderfully inclusive collection, with stories from queer and trans women of many sexualities, each with unique experiences and perspectives.

Cover of They Called Me Queer

They Called Me Queer Edited by Kim Windvogel and Kelly-Eve Koopman (South Africa)

Like Stories of Our Lives does for queer Kenyans, this collection of writings by LGBTQIA+ South Africans illuminates the ups and downs of everyday life for queer South Africans. It includes contributions from writers, poets, and artists of diverse genders and sexualities, and sheds light on both the joys and struggles of the queer South African community.

Cover of Queer Africa

Queer Africa Edited by Karen Martin and Makhosazana Xaba (Various Countries)

If you’re looking for a place to start with queer African lit, you can’t go wrong with the Queer Africa anthologies (there are two now). This collection is chock-full of stories by both well-known and emerging African writers from various countries. Not only is it a great anthology in its own right, it’s also a fantastic way to learn about African writers you may not have heard of!

Looking for more African lit? Check out these books in translation from Western Africa, these books written by African women of color, and these books by Nigerian authors. And if you’re looking for more queer lit from around the world, you’ll find some great selections on this list of queer books in translation.