In Memoriam: Binyavanga Wainaina


The Trustees of the Caine Prize for African Writing are profoundly saddened to learn of the passing of Binyavanga Wainaina.

 Binyavanga was a fiercely talented writer, a brave activist, and a dearly beloved friend.

His contribution to literature in Africa, and in his home country of Kenya, cannot be adequately measured. Through Kwani?, the literary magazine that he founded in 2003, he offered a platform for new African writers to let their voices sing and their stories soar.

His coruscating essay ‘How to Write About Africa’ tore up the essentialist paradigms of the Western literary depictions of the continent with a merciless wit.

At home and abroad, he earned deep respect for his courageous decision to come out openly as a homosexual in a contentious time for gay rights in Kenya and Africa. He stood as a giant among men for his LGBT activism, boldly using his voice to celebrate and defend gay rights. He was due to marry his long-term partner this year.

Binyavanga left an indelible impression on everyone who knew him. Today, we at the Caine Prize share the sadness of those who have lost a friend, colleague, and inspiration, but also the joy and privilege of having known him.

In a personal tribute, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey added: “Binyavanga was unbound in his imagining - reminding us with art and characteristic playfulness, what English can look like when it’s an African language. Unflagging in his generosity, unflinching and direct in his criticism, he produced work in his short life that will have impact longer lasting than those whose time here is twice as long. On a deeply personal level, and as one who acknowledges the wings he gave to a generation of writers, I am bereft.“