Binyavanga Wainaina is the founding editor of Kwani?, a leading African literary magazine based in Kenya. He won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing and has written for Vanity Fair, Granta, and the New York Times. Wainaina directs the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College.
Early life and education
Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley province. 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. 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 a short story 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.”
Following his education, Wainaina worked in Cape Town for some years as a freelance food and travel writer.
In July 2002 he won the Caine Prize for his short story “Discovering Home”. He is the founding editor of Kwani?, the first literary magazine in East Africa since Transition Magazine. Since its founding, Kwani? has since become an important source of new writing from Africa; several writers for the magazine have been nominated for the Caine Prize and have subsequently won it.
Wainaina’s satirical essay “How to Write About Africa” attracted wide attention. In 2003, he was given an award by the Kenya Publisher’s Association, in recognition of his services to Kenyan literature. He has written for The EastAfrican, National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), Granta, the New York Times, Chimurenga magazine and The Guardian (UK).
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, where he was teaching, lecturing and working on a novel. He is currently a Bard Fellow and the director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Literature and Languages at Bard College.
Young Global Leader
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’.
- “Discovering Home” (short story, G21Net, 2001)
- “An Affair to Dismember” (short story)
- “Beyond the River Yei: Life in the Land Where Sleeping is a Disease” (photographic essay, Kwani Trust), with Sven Torfinn
- “How To Write About Africa” (article, satire, Granta 92 2005)
- “In Gikuyu, for Gikuyu, of Gikuyu” (article, satire, Granta 103, 2008)
- One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir (autobiography, Graywolf Press, 2011)
- “Viewpoint: Binyavanga on why Africa’s international image is unfair”, BBC News Africa, 24 April 2012.
- “How to Write About Africa II: The Revenge”, Bidoun, No. 21 Bazaar II.