Kenya’s LGBTQ community is in mourning after one of its most acclaimed sons, influential and award-winning author Binyavanga Wainaina, died at the age of 48.
It’s understood that Wainaina, who was one of the most high profile Kenyans to be openly gay, passed away on Tuesday at a Nairobi hospital after a short illness.
In May 2018, Wainaina announced that he planned to marry his partner in South Africa this year. “Nothing has surprised me more than coming to love this person, who is gentle and has the most gorgeous heart,” he said at the time.
Among the continent’s leading literary figures, Wainaina came out as gay through a semi-biographical short piece, titled I Am a Homosexual, Mum, in January 2014.
In April of that year, he was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and was included among the globe’s leading artists.
“By publicly and courageously declaring that he is a gay African, Binyavanga has demystified and humanised homosexuality and begun a necessary conversation that can no longer be about the ‘faceless other,’” wrote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Time.
In 2016, Wainaina also revealed that he was living with HIV on Twitter on 1 December, World Aids Day, writing: “I am HIV Positive, and happy.”
Wainaina was born in Nakuru, Kenya, and later studied commerce at the University of Transkei in South Africa. His first book, a memoir entitled One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011 and was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her coveted book club.
In 2002, he won the Caine Prize for his short story Discovering Home. He also wrote for National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), the New York Times, Chimurenga magazine and The Guardian (UK).
Tributes for Wainaina have poured in on social media as friends, colleagues and activists acknowledged the impact he had on the literary, intellectual and human rights fields in Kenya, Africa and the world.
“What immense talent; what an enormous personality; a child of luck who beckoned opportunities like a magnet,” tweeted Joyce Nyairo. “Binya leaves an indelible footprint in the sands of that surge of creativity and production that defined Kenya in the new millennium.”
Our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of this African giant. May he rest in peace.