Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina was born in 1971 in Nakuru, in the Kenyan province of Rift Valley. After completing his studies in commerce at the University of Transkei in the South African province Eastern Cape, he lived in Cape Town, and started to write for South African magazines such as »Weekend Argus« and »The Sunday Times«.

Wainaina was awarded the prestigious Caine Prize for African Literature in 2002, after his short story »Discovering Home« was published by the online magazine »G21Net«. It tells of a trip the young author took from his home in South Africa to his birthplace in Kenya and to Uganda, where his grandparents lived. Marked by lively descriptions, satirical humor and reflective passages, Wainaina paints a scenic and cultural portrait illustrating the vibrance and diversity of these three African countries. Heterogeneous populations vacillate between tradition and modernity, buoyed by the spirit of hope despite their colonial pasts and current political situations. In particular, customary exotic stereotypes no longer apply. His satirical articles »How to Write About Africa« (2006, published in the British magazine »Granta«) and »Warum es nervt, wie alle Afrika helfen wollen« (2007; tr. Why it’s annoying that everybody wants to help Africa, which appeared in »Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch«), Wainaina mocks clichés and prejudices about Africa. In contrast, the author presents a range of strong, self-assured and diverse African identities. Wainana’s equally humorous and melancholic »One day I will write about this place«, a memoir published in 2011, tells of his Kenyan ancestry, of South Africa, where he studied, and of his first forays into writing leading up to his literary debut. It also concerns itself with deeper issues such as politics, as well as national and familial identity. In »I am a homosexual, mum« (2014), a lost chapter from his memoir, Wainaina acknowledges his homosexuality, which caused an uproar in Kenya.

In 2003, Wainana founded »kwani?«, a leading literary magazine that has established itself as a platform for Kenyan and African creativity. That same year he received the Kenyan Publishers’ Association Prize for his contribution to the literature of his country). In 2007 he declined the honor of becoming a World Economic Forum »Young Global Leader«. Wainana has received grants, inter alia, from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the University of East Anglia, has been a writer-in-residence at Union College in Schenectady, New York, a lecturer at Williams College, and was the director of the Chinua Achebe Center at Bard College. He wrote for »The EastAfrican«, »The New Yorker« and »The Guardian«, among other publications. Wainaina died of a stroke in May 2019 in Nairobi.