Binyavanga Wainaina, Pioneering Voice in African Literature, Dies at 48

Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Nakuru, Kenya, on Jan. 18, 1971. His mother, Rosemary (Binyavanga) Wainaina, ran a hair salon there, and his father, Job, was a successful executive.

His family called him Ken, but the “exotic” name Binyavanga “gave me a thrill,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2014, and he began going by his middle name.

In 2011, Mr. Wainaina published a memoir, “One Day I Will Write About This Place,” which was a critical success at home and abroad. Readers noticed the absence of a love life, he said, but at the time, he thought, “I’m not ready to go there.”

By 2014, after ruminating for several months about whether to come out publicly, he published the “lost chapter” from his memoir online. In the essay, he described knowing he was gay since he was a young boy, but secretly struggling with that awareness for years.

“This feeling has made me suddenly ripped apart and lonely,” he wrote of the experience of shaking a man’s hand at age 7. “The feeling is not sexual. It is certain. It is overwhelming. It wants to make a home. It comes every few months like a bout of malaria and leaves me shaken for days, and confused for months. I do nothing about it.”

He began exploring his sexuality after his mother’s death. But he could not “say the word gay” until he was 39, he wrote, and he did not publish the “lost chapter” essay until he was in his 40s, after both his parents had died.

On World AIDS Day in 2016, Mr. Wainaina announced on Twitter that he was H.I.V. positive — “and happy,” he wrote.




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