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Binyavanga Wainaina speaks: 10 quotes from the pre-eminent Kenyan writer

We remember and celebrate Binyavanga Wainana an influential Kenyan writer, who was also a beacon for the LGBTQI+ community. We remember Binya with these 10 quotes selected from his speeches, public talks and interviews.

Binyavanga Wainaina, one of Kenya’s most famous writers passed away on May 21. In 2002 he won the Caine Prize for African writing.

In 2003 he became the founding editor of African literary magazine, Kwani?, the first literary magazine in east Africa since Transition Magazine. In 2014 Binyavanga was named one of Time magazine’s 100 “Most Influential People in the World”.

Binyavanga influenced many young African writers, and his writings have been praised for invoking fundamental questions about the West’s coverage of Africa, cultural bias, sexuality, and identity.

Here’s our selection of Binyavanga’s quotes.

1. “African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life – but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause”. How to Write About Africa.

2. “I tried to file it [being gay] away separately and have a place in my imagination to deal with it and not act on it outside of them [family]”. Binyavanga Wainaina talks to Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk about why he decided to come out as gay.

3. “I’m an African, I was brought up here, my home is here. Being an Afropolitan, I am here to stay”. “We Must Free Our Imaginations” video essay, 2014.

4. “I’m a pan-Africanist. I want to see this continent changed”.

5. [Africa] is “the moral reservoir of human diversity, human aid, human dignity”. 2014 TED talk “Conversations with Baba”.

Author, cultural commentator and satirist Binyavanga Wainaina

6. “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions”. How to Write About Africa.

7. “Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care”. How to Write About Africa.

8. “I, Binyavanga Wainaina, quite honestly swear I have known I am a homosexual since I was five”. I am a homosexual, mum. Binyavanga Wainaina imagines coming out to his late mother.

9. “The time we are living in is the greatest opportunity to be queer and it is almost the most dangerous time because everything is up for grabs. If you want to call it Africa rising, political change, or the fact that there are more mobile phones, social media and even roads, it has just cleared the way and given people room to organise, create space, but also at the same time made them vulnerable to be attacked and threatened”. A lost chapter found: Interview with Binyavanga Wainaina. Kevin Mwachiro.

10. “What is astonishing is that globalised technology, like Whatsapp and Viber, really gives a lot of leeway to negotiating spaces and to keeping one’s identity. So people are able to be more receptive as a gay community to be part of an environment that is going to challenge the law. Change is coming much faster than I thought”. A lost chapter found: Interview with Binyavanga Wainaina. Kevin Mwachiro.

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