Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina has died in Nairobi at the young age of 48 after a short illness.
Wainaina was among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014 for his gay rights activism. The award-winning writer is best known for his satirical essay How to Write About Africa.
Wainaina was one of the first high-profile openly gay Kenyans who “felt an obligation to chip away at the shame” that people felt about being gay, noted author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “He demystified and humanized homosexuality.”
Another Kenyan writer, Nanjala Nyabola, said Wainaina had shown Kenyans that literature could be a valid career as well as a creative outlet.
“He reopened the possibilities of Kenyan literature,” she told the BBC, noting how Wainaina challenged Kenyans to rethink negative stereotypes about homosexuality- which is currently illegal in Kenya. According to Nyabola “there are people who are very comfortable with their identity… but the public space for acceptance and respect has always been lacking and even characterised by violence.”
“What [Wainaina] said is ‘look I’m here and I’m still the same person that you know and love and respect ‘… I think it’s incredibly powerful.”