Add to Queue: Kobby Ben Ben’s Pleasure Packed African Literature

A selection of curated media lists from our global community
words – kobby ben ben
location – accra, ghana

In Africa, where it’s not unusual for sex to be lauded solely for its reproductive merits, I wrote a psychological thriller centering queer pleasure in all of its glorious and gory forms. There is spit and villainous scents; multiple tossings and turnings within its pages. When we consider good health and wellbeing, sexual pleasure is often woefully absent from the conversation – overlooked in light of a focus on reproductive health and contraception as the pillars of any discussion centred on sex.

It comes as no surprise to me to see my novel’s reception among the conservative majority in Ghana, where I live. A bookseller friend explained to me reasons why my novel isn’t flying off the shelves: “Customers walk into the store and ask for ‘that gay sex book everyone’s talking about,’ only to flip through it and return it to its shelf.”

But Africans are having amazing, smutty, bold, taboo sex. That’s certainly what I aimed to convey in a book like mine. African literature has finally strayed from its reproductive, cut-to-black sex scenes favouring polygamy and a patriarchal figurehead. To highlight this, here are a few of my recommendations of pleasure packed African literature.

01_The Most Secret Memory of Men by Mbougar Sarr

In Sarr’s most recent novel, which celebrates literature whilst decrying the harsh treatment of La Francophonie authors in Paris, the main character – Faye – is the kind of male writer with the predicted preoccupation with breasts. Though over-sexualisation isn’t an unsurprising trait of male narrators [for this, Sarr’s portrayal rings true], the women in Sarr’s novel perhaps unexpectedly orchestrate their own threesomes, seek more casual encounters and do not live by the whims of the men lusting after them. There’s a love story between a Haitian poetess and a Senegalese writer that could have benefited from more page time, but the queer representation is admirable nonetheless. Writers [and their editors] in Sarr’s novel not only hunger for literary success, but engage in exploits with as many partners as can be crammed within the confines of a room.


02_The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon

Certainly does what its title promises. There’s so much hush-hush that goes on in all-girl schools, which this novel presents for all to see. Esi is described as a feisty Nigerian-Ghanaian girl growing up amidst the political upheaval of 1960s Ghana. In one revolutionary scene, Esi has ‘supi’ [Lesbian] sex in her boarding school. Women in Ghana read this novel and opine in book clubs about how Bisi Adjapon depicts Ghanaian womanhood the way they experienced it – a feat which few Ghanaian novels have achieved.


03_Akwaeke Emezi’s entire Adult Oeuvre

From ‘Freshwater’ to ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ and ‘You Made A Fool of Death With Your Beauty,’ Emezi’s novels aren’t short of literary debauchery. The scenes in ‘Freshwater’ [about an Ogbanjie’s torrential battle between their body casing and their spirit] are lyrical and transcendental. Sometimes Emezi’s characters are consumed by a self-immolating need that results in the most graphic sex scenes. In the opening of ‘You Made A Fool of Death With Your Beauty,’ Feyi has hot bathroom sex with a stranger – at a time when hot bathroom sex with a stranger is a decided rarity in African fiction. In ‘The Death of Vivek Oji,’ Osita and Vivek, cousins, share a scene that readers have found uncomfortable; and there are voyeurism-leaning scenes that further this theme of sexual curiosity during puberty. Emezi represents all of this beautifully to stimulate conversations about taboo topics that Africans are forced to confront at a time of limited sexual education. Akwaeke Emezi’s ‘Little Rot’ is out in June, and I’m sure it will have the trademark sexual adventures that their novels are known for.


04_The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa

Now here’s a title that’s cult, that’s worship, that’s temple. It’s a title that inspires lists like this, and offers the lister a blueprint of others to curate on the topic. The women in Nana Darkoa’s nonfiction sex-anthology are not holding back their experiences: sometimes graphic and sometimes exploring issues that are contrary to the world’s perception of African women. The introductory story, for example, depicts a polygamous arrangement – written in a way that does not demonise the entire institution, as popular media is so often guilty of. I’m reminded of a blog post by an [African] reader who warns Christian readers to steer clear of this one. Their reason? The author is so convincing in the agenda she pushes, which conflicts with Christian dogma. For me, this only serves as an unwittingly strong recommendation to purchase this book. 


05_Vagabonds by Eloghosa Osunde

This is one of those African debuts that broke [queer] literary Twitter with a collection of stories about the queer men and women in Nigeria and their very insular sex parties. That’s a limiting way of looking at a book about queer survival and queer expressions in Nigeria – partly written in Nigerian pidgin, the characters will crawl under your skin with their hypnotic narrative voices until you’re inhabiting their stories and bodies. Be prepared – the sex scenes and the sexual tension [Eloghosa Osunde can write sexual tension!] might push the reader to the edge. There’s one scene between characters Star and Divine, performed in an elaborate cultish BDSM orgy, that refuses to be forgotten. I think of it every time I spot someone with a septum piercing and then I have to turn away to hide my private smile. The lesbians of ‘Vagabonds’ are having amazing, bold, brutal sex and can’t be stopped even if their lives are barbwired with anti-gay legislation passed by politicians who use queer oppression as a ruse to conceal bad governance.

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