Binyavanga Wainaina

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Binyavanga Wainaina
Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
Kenneth Wainaina[1]

(1971-01-18)18 January 1971
Died21 May 2019(2019-05-21) (aged 48)
Nairobi, Kenya
EducationMoi Primary School; Mangu High School; Lenana School; University of Transkei; University of East Anglia
Occupation(s)Memoirist, short-story writer, editor
Known forFounding editor of literary magaxine Kwani?
Notable work
  • "How to Write About Africa" (2005)
  • One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir (2011)
Awards2002 Caine Prize

Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina (18 January 1971 – 21 May 2019) was a Kenyan author, journalist and 2002 winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2003, he was the founding editor of Kwani? literary magazine. In April 2014, Time magazine included Wainaina in its annual Time 100 as one of the "Most Influential People in the World".[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Binyavanga Wainaina was born on 18 January 1971[3] in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province, Kenya.[4] He attended Moi Primary School in Nakuru, Mangu High School in Thika, and Lenana School in Nairobi. He later studied commerce at the University of Transkei in South Africa, where he went to live in 1991.[4][5] He completed an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2010.[6]

His debut book, a memoir entitled One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011. In January 2014, in response to a wave of anti-gay laws passed in Africa, Wainaina publicly announced that he was gay, first writing an essay that he described as a "lost chapter" of his 2011 memoir entitled "I am a Homosexual, Mum", and then tweeting: "I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy."[7][8][9]


Wainaina at the PICNIC festival in 2008, where he was a featured speaker.[10]

Following his education, Wainaina worked in Cape Town for some years as a freelance food and travel writer.[11]

In July 2002 he won the Caine Prize for his short story "Discovering Home"[12][13] (the judges being Ahdaf Soueif, Margaret Busby, Jason Cowley and Abdulrazak Gurnah).[14] Wainaina was the founding editor of Kwani?,[15][16] the literary magazine in East Africa that sprung out of an artistic revolution that started in 2002.[17] Established in 2003, Kwani? has since become an important source of new writing from Africa;[15] Yvonne Owuor also wrote for the magazine and won the Caine Prize in 2003.[18]

Wainaina's satirical essay "How to Write About Africa", published in Granta magazine in 2005,[19] attracted wide attention.[20][21] Wainaina summed up the way Western media has reinforced stereotypes and pre-existing ideas of Africa by saying their representation was that: "One must treat Africa as if it were one country... [of] 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book."[22]

In 2003, he was given an award by the Kenya Publishers Association for his services to Kenyan literature.[23] He wrote for The EastAfrican, National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), Granta, The New York Times, Chimurenga and The Guardian (UK).[23][24][25][26][27]

In 2007, Wainaina was a writer-in-residence at Union College in Schenectady, NY (USA). In the fall of 2008, he was in residence at Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he was teaching, lecturing and working on a novel. He was a Bard Fellow and the director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Literature and Languages at Bard College.[28]

Wainaina collected more than 13,000 recipes from around Africa and was an expert on traditional and modern African cuisine.[29]

In January 2007, Wainaina was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a "Young Global Leader" – an award given to people for "their potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world." He subsequently declined the award. In a letter to Klaus Schwab and Queen Rania of Jordan, he wrote:

I assume that most, like me, are tempted to go anyway because we will get to be "validated" and glow with the kind of self-congratulation that can only be bestowed by very globally visible and significant people, and we are also tempted to go and talk to spectacularly bright and accomplished people – our "peers". We will achieve Global Institutional Credibility for our work, as we have been anointed by an institution that many countries and presidents bow down to.
The problem here is that I am a writer. And although, like many, I go to sleep at night fantasizing about fame, fortune and credibility, the thing that is most valuable in my trade is to try, all the time, to keep myself loose, independent and creative ... it would be an act of great fraudulence for me to accept the trite idea that I am "going to significantly impact world affairs".[30]

Personal life[edit]

On 1 December 2016, World AIDS Day, Wainaina announced on his Twitter profile that he was HIV positive, "and happy".[31][16] In 2018, he announced that he would be marrying his long-term partner the following year.[16][32]


Wainaina died, aged 48, after a stroke on the evening of 21 May 2019, at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, according to news and family sources.[33][34] He had experienced several strokes since 2016.[11][35]

Selected publications[edit]

  • "Discovering Home" (short story), g21net, 2001. Reprinted in Discovering Home: A selection of writings from the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing.[36]
  • "An Affair to Dismember" (short story), Wasafiri, Volume 17, Issue 37, 2002.[37]
  • "Beyond the River Yei: Life in the Land Where Sleeping is a Disease" (photographic essay; with Sven Torfinn), Kwani Trust, 2004.[38]
  • "How To Write About Africa" (article, satire), Granta 92, 2005.[39] As How to Write About Africa, Kwani Trust, 2008, ISBN 978-9966700827.[40] Reproduced in full in the 40th birthday edition of Granta, 2 May 2019.[41]
  • "In Gikuyu, for Gikuyu, of Gikuyu" (article, satire), Granta 103, 2008.[1]
  • "How to Write About Africa II: The Revenge", Bidoun, No. 21, Bazaar II, 2010.[20]
  • One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir (autobiography); Graywolf Press, 2011, ISBN 978-1555975913.[42]
  • "Viewpoint: Binyavanga on why Africa's international image is unfair", BBC News | Africa, 24 April 2012.[43]
  • "I am a homosexual, mum" (essay). Africa is a Country, 19 January 2014.[7] Reprinted in The Guardian, 21 January 2014.[44]
  • "A Letter to All Kenyans from Binyavanga Wainaina or Binyavanga wa Muigai" (essay), Brittle Paper, 25 October 2017.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wainaina, Binyavanga (Autumn 2008). "In Gikuyu, for Gikuyu, of Gikuyu". Archived from the original on 1 May 2009.
  2. ^ "Binyavanga Wainaina by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Time 100". Time. 23 April 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  3. ^ Adams, Tim (16 February 2014). "Binyavanga Wainaina: coming out in Kenya". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Voices of Kenya's Voters", BBC News.
  5. ^ Biographical note, "How To Write About Africa", Kwani?.
  6. ^ "Binyavanga Wainaina | Biography", Hurston/Wright Foundation.
  7. ^ a b Wainaina, Binyavanga (19 January 2014). "I am a homosexual, mum (A lost chapter from One Day I Will Write About This Place)". Africa is a Country. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016.
  8. ^ Howden, Daniel (21 January 2014), "Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina declares: 'I am homosexual'", The Guardian.
  9. ^ @BinyavangaW (20 January 2014). "I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homsexual. Gay, and quite happy" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 23 May 2019 – via Twitter.
  10. ^ "PICNIC Festival 2008: Create the Future (collaborative creativity)". Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  11. ^ a b Smith, Harrison (22 May 2019). "Binyavanga Wainaina, barrier-shattering presence in African literature, dies at 48". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  12. ^ Micheni, Mwenda (3 May 2010). "Caine Prize sways African writing". The East African.
  13. ^ Williams, Stephen (1 September 2002). "Caine Prize 2002: Top award goes to Kenya's Wainaina". All Business. Reprinted at The Free Library.
  14. ^ Caine Prize judges since 2000.
  15. ^ a b "Binyavanga Wainaina". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  16. ^ a b c Busby, Margaret (2 June 2019). "Binyavanga Wainaina obituary – Kenyan writer and LGBT activist who made a revolutionary impact on literature from and about the African continent". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  17. ^ Madenga, Tadiwa (27 June 2018). "5 Literary Magazines That Have Transformed African Literature". okayafrica.
  18. ^ "Previous Winners". The 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing. Archived from the original on 12 April 2019. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  19. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (2 May 2019). "How to Write About Africa". Granta.
  20. ^ a b Wainaina, Binyavanga (24 May 2019), "How to Write About Africa II – The revenge", Bidoun, Issue 21: Bazaar II, 2008.
  21. ^ "Binyavanga Wainaina Tells Us 'How To Write About Africa'". Goats and Soda. 22 May 2019. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  22. ^ Sickmueller, Megan (17 October 2021). "Binyavanga Wainaina's 'How To Write About Africa' and the Dangers of the Single Story". Retrospect Journal. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
  23. ^ a b Kamau, Stephen (16 May 2018). "Binyavanga Wainaina: 7 things you need to know about this controversial author". Tuko. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  24. ^ Malec, Jennifer (7 August 2017). "'How to write about everything'—Binyavanga Wainaina on the problems faced by African writers, and how to overcome them". The Johannesburg Review of Books. Retrieved 23 May 2019. The piece was styled as a 'lost chapter' from his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, and was published simultaneously on Chimurenga...
  25. ^ Rausing, Sigrid (22 May 2019). "Binyavanga Wainaina". Granta. We had already published his memoir... and, among others, a satirical piece...
  26. ^ "Binyavanga Wainaina Archive". Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2017. He wrote several essays for the Sunday Times, South Africa, commissioned by Andrew Unsworth, which are unavailable on their online archive.
  27. ^ Vidija, Patrick; Muchangi, John (1 December 2016). "I am HIV positive, Binyavanga tweets". The Star. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  28. ^ "Fellows of the Bard Center". Bard College. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  29. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (8 July 2021), "Black Mischief", G21: The World's Magazine.
  30. ^ "Visiting writer Wainaina winning worldwide accolades". Union College. 31 January 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  31. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga [@BinyavangaW] (1 December 2016). "i am HiV Positive, and happy" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  32. ^ "Tributes Paid To Binyavanga Wainaina Who Has Died Aged 48", The Voice, 22 May 2019. Archived 12 August 2022.
  33. ^ Malec, Jennifer (22 May 2019). "Binyavanga Wainaina, 1971–2019, RIP". The Johannesburg Review of Books. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  34. ^ Associated Press (22 May 2019). "Kenyan Author, LGBT Activist Binyavanga Wainaina Dies at 48". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  35. ^ Flood, Alison (22 May 2019). "Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenyan author and gay rights activist, dies aged 48". The Guardian.
  36. ^ "Discovering Home". The Free Library by Farlex. 2003. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  37. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (2002), "An Affair to Dismember", Wasafiri, 17 (37): 20–25, doi:10.1080/02690050208589803, S2CID 162268130
  38. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (2004). Beyond the River Yei: Life in the Land Where Sleeping is a Disease. p. 97. ISBN 9789966983633. OCLC 56639778.
  39. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (Winter 2005). "How to Write About Africa". Archived from the original on 21 April 2008.
  40. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (15 October 2008). How to Write About Africa. Kwanini?. p. 52. ISBN 978-9966700827.
  41. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (2 May 2019). "How to write about Africa". Granta (149: 40th Birthday Special).
  42. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (19 July 2011). One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press. ISBN 978-1555975913.
  43. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (24 April 2012). "Viewpoint: Binyavanga on why Africa's international image is unfair". Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  44. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (21 January 2014). "I am a homosexual, mum". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
  45. ^ Wainaina, Binyavanga (25 October 2017). "A Letter to All Kenyans from Binyavanga Wainaina or Binyavanga wa Muigai". Brittle Paper: An African Literary Experience. Retrieved 24 May 2019.

External links[edit]