…Writers we love!
This week on our blog, Reece from Victoria Library has reviewed the life and work of Kenyan author and gay rights activist Binyavanga Wainaina, over to Reece to tell us more….
“I’m not even sure I want to use the term ‘coming out’”.
Kenyan novelist and Journalist Binyavanga Wainaina, explained that publicly announcing his sexuality did not at all feel like he was stepping out of the darkness and into the light. Instead, it felt as if he was encountering more obstacles and more barriers to social situations. “What is my urinal policy? Do you chat casually with the person next to you as would be the case before?”. He jokingly poses these questions but alludes to a wider notion that there were still hurdles he had to climb because of his sexuality, he alternatively prefers the term “Gay in public”.
Binyavanga’s somewhat unique interpretation of his self-discovery is highly representative of his writing style and career as an author. His satirical collection of essays titled ‘How to write about Africa’ was a powerful attack on the way Non-African writers perceive Africa, deciding to celebrate the richness in culture as opposed to a “dearth” in resources. Binyavanga wanted to challenge popular perceptions of identity, culture and belonging. His fluid and poetic style earned him the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002, one of the highest achievements in African writing.
Binyavanga was also an experimental writer. During a period in his life where he suffered from depression – he tried what he called “scribble fiction” a way in which he could liberate himself from the struggles of living through his sexual identity. He often wrote piece after piece criticising Kenyan Pentecostal churches and their approach to relationships, it is thus easy to observe how he became sceptical towards religion. But towards the end of his life he did acquire an interest into Pre-colonial Kenyan spirituality. His very first published novel – which was thought to be lost – called ‘Binguni!’ was a story about an African afterlife, featuring a queer prophet and other various entities from the internet world, questioning and enlightening his audience about the prospect of a liberal paradise.
His writing, his identity and his approach to life all flew in the face of contemporary Kenya that was enacting legislation to further criminalise homosexuality. He passed away at the age of 48 after suffering from a stroke in 2019. From starting out as a freelance food and travel writer to being listed in TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2014, his influence on the world of literature and activism can not be understated. Binyavanga Wainaina is undoubtedly a figure worth researching during this PRIDE month and beyond.
“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”
Binyavanga Wainaina’s books can be borrowed for free through our library catalogue – https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=Binyavanga+Wainaina&te=
Why not check one out today?!