Literary Birthday – 18 January – Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina was born 18 January 1971 and died 21 May 2019.

Nine Quotes

  1. I like the idea of readers feeling a familiarity, whether it’s with Africa or childhood.
  2. When I went to live in South Africa, I immediately began to understand what went wrong. Because here was a place supposed to be under apartheid – I arrived there in 1991 – but here a black person had more say and had more influence over his white government than an average Kenyan had over the Moi government.
  3. There’s no point for me in being a writer and having all these blocked places where I feel I can’t think freely and imagine freely.
  4. Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel prize.
  5. We are a mixed up people. We have mixed up ways of naming, too… When my father’s brothers and sisters first went to colonial schools, they had to produce a surname. They also had to show they were good Christians by adopting a western name. They adopted my grandfather’s name as surname. Wainaina.
  6. I love playing with words and texture.
  7. When art as an expression starts to appear, without prompting, all over the suburbs and villages of this country, what we are saying is: we are confident enough to create our own living, our own entertainment, our own aesthetic. Such an aesthetic will not be donated to us from the corridors of a university; or from the Ministry of Culture, or by the French Cultural Centre. It will come from the individual creations of a thousand creative people.
  8. It is an aspect of Kenya I am always acutely aware of – and crave, because I don’t have it all. My third language, Gikuyu, is nearly non-existent; I can’t speak it. It is a phantom limb.
  9. All people have dignity. There’s nobody who was born without a soul and a spirit.

Binyavanga Wainaina was a Kenyan author, journalist, and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. He is the author of One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir. He was also a well-known LGBT activist. He is perhaps best known for his scathingly satirical essay How to Write About Africa, which was published in Granta in 2005.

Source for Image: By Nightscream – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 18th January 2015