Binyavanga Wainaina

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Binyavanga Wainaina
Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
Born (1971-01-18) 18 January 1971 (age 48)
Nakuru, Kenya
OccupationNovelist, short story writer
GenreAuthor, journalist
Notable awards2002 Caine Prize

Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina (born 18 January 1971) is a Kenyan author, journalist and 2002 winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. In April 2014, Time magazine included Wainaina in its annual TIME 100 as one of the "Most Influential People in the World."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province, Kenya.[2] 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.[2][3] He completed an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2010.[4]

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 a short story 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."[5][6]


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

In July 2002 he won the Caine Prize for his short story "Discovering Home"[7][8] (the judges being Ahdaf Soueif, Margaret Busby, Jason Cowley and Abdulrazak Gurnah.[9] He is the founding editor of Kwani?, the first literary magazine in East Africa since Transition Magazine. Established in 2003, Kwani? has since become an important source of new writing from Africa; several writers for the magazine have been nominated for the Caine Prize and have subsequently won it.

Wainaina's satirical essay "How to Write About Africa", published in Granta magazine in 2006,[10] attracted wide attention.[11]

In 2003, he was given an award by the Kenya Publisher's Association, in recognition of his services to Kenyan literature. He has written for The EastAfrican, National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), Granta, The New York Times, Chimurenga and The Guardian (UK).

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, where he was teaching, lecturing and working on a novel. He is currently a Bard Fellow and the director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Literature and Languages at Bard College.[12]

Wainaina has collected over 13,000 recipes from around Africa and is an expert on traditional and modern African cuisine.[13]

Young Global Leader[edit]

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'.[14]

HIV status[edit]

On 1 December 2016, World Aids Day, Wainaina announced on his Twitter profile that he was HIV positive.[15]

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,
  • "An Affair to Dismember" (short story), Wasafiri, Vol. 17 , Iss. 37, 2002
  • "Beyond the River Yei: Life in the Land Where Sleeping is a Disease" (photographic essay; Kwani Trust), with Sven Torfinn
  • "How To Write About Africa" (article, satire; Granta 92, 2005). As How to Write About Africa, Kwani Trust, 2008, ISBN 978-9966700827
  • "In Gikuyu, for Gikuyu, of Gikuyu" (article, satire; Granta 103, 2008)
  • One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir (autobiography); Graywolf Press, 2011, ISBN 978-1555975913
  • "Viewpoint: Binyavanga on why Africa's international image is unfair", BBC News Africa, 24 April 2012.
  • "How to Write About Africa II: The Revenge", Bidoun, No. 21, Bazaar II.
  • "A Letter to All Kenyans from Binyavanga Wainaina or Binyavanga wa Muigai" (essay), Brittle Paper, 25 October 2017.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Binyavanga Wainaina by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: TIME 100". TIME. 23 April 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Voices of Kenya's Voters", BBC News.
  3. ^ Biographical note, "How To Write About Africa", Kwani?.
  4. ^ "Binyavanga Wainaina | Biography", Hurston/Wright Foundation.
  5. ^ "I am a homosexual, mum (A lost chapter from One Day I Will Write About This Place)", Africa is a Country, 19 January 2014.
  6. ^ Daniel Howden, "Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina declares: 'I am homosexual'", The Guardian, 21 January 2014.
  7. ^ Mwenda Micheni (3 May 2010). "Caine Prize sways African writing". The East African.
  8. ^ Stephen Williams (1 September 2002). "Caine Prize 2002: Top award goes to Kenya's Wainaina". All Business. Reprinted at The Free Library.
  9. ^ Caine Prize judges since 2000.
  10. ^ Binyavanga Wainaina, "How to Write About Africa", Granta 92: The View from Africa, 19 January 2006.
  11. ^ Binyavanga Wainaina, "How to Write About Africa II – The revenge", Bidoun, Issue 21: Bazaar II.
  12. ^ "Fellows of the Bard Center". Bard College. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  13. ^ Binyavanga Wainaina, "Black Mischief", G21: The World's Magazine, 8 July 2012.
  14. ^ "Visiting writer Wainaina winning worldwide accolades". Union College. 31 January 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  15. ^ Binyavanga Wainaina [@BinyavangaW] (1 December 2016). "i am HiV Positive, and happy" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

External links[edit]