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Mon, 01.18.1971

Binyavanga Wainaina, Writer, and Professor born

Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina

*Binyavanga Wainaina was born on this date in 1971. He was a Black Kenyan author, professor, journalist, and LGBT activist.  

Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province, Kenya. 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. 

Following his education, Wainaina worked in Cape Town for some years as a freelance food and travel writer.  In 2002 he won the Caine Prize for his short story "Discovering Home."  He was the founding editor of the literary magazine Kwani? in East Africa, which sprung out of an artistic revolution established in 2003.  In 2003, he was given an award by the Kenya Publishers Association for his services to Kenyan literature. 

He wrote for The East AfricanNational GeographicThe Sunday Times (South Africa), GrantaThe New York TimesChimurenga, and The Guardian (UK).  Wainaina's satirical essay "How to Write About Africa," published in Granta magazine in 2006, attracted wide attention.  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, 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.  Wainaina collected over 13,000 recipes from around Africa and was an expert on traditional and modern African cuisine.  

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." 

He completed an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2010.  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."  

On December 1, 2016, World Aids Day, Wainaina announced on his Twitter profile that he was HIV positive "and happy." In 2018 he announced that he would marry his long-term partner the following year.  

Binyavanga Wainaina died after a stroke on May 21, 2019, at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, according to news and family sources. He had experienced several strokes since 2016. 

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