Kenya: Writer, Gay Rights Activist Binyavanga Remembered

Family and friends of the late Kenyan literary icon and gay rights activist Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina held a memorial in celebration of his life and works Thursday in Nairobi. Binyavanga died last week in Kenya after a short illness.

Family and friends of Binyavanga Wainaina, the Kenyan literary icon who challenged stereotypes and prejudice through his writings, held a ceremony Thursday to celebrate his life and work.

The attendees streamed into the intimate garden event, as the sound of soft instrumental African music played in the background.

James Wainaina, Binyavanga's elder brother, shared his thoughts with VOA.

"How I would like people to remember Binyavanga? I think would be encapsulated by just a very brief thought - Ken's life was a seed and he planted that seed not for himself but for others, just listening to the number of artists who found their voice because Ken believed in them, gave them a platform, to speak in many different fields, be it musically and other types of artistic impressions, and that’s how I would like him to be remembered, and that is what life is about."

Binyavanga won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002. He also founded the Kwani Trust, a publisher that championed African literature by promoting new writing.

Billy Kahora, a writer and editor at Kwani Trust, worked with Binyavanga.

“I think his legacy is so big, that to try and capture it in a moment, you would actually have to meet him. You would have to meet him and spend five minutes just get to get a sense of what he is like, but I think the other ways to meet him is through his writing because he had so many facets,” said Kahora.

Kenyan artist Sitawa Namwalie read one of Binyavanga's most consequential essays, titled, "I am a Homosexual, Mum," in which Binyavanga imagines what it would be like to come out to his late mother.

A strong LGBTQ advocate, Binyavanga came out as gay through the essay in 2014, and revealed that he was HIV-positive.

For a conservative section of the society, being gay outweighed Binyavanga's life achievements.

But Wainaina, Kenneth’s brother, says he doesn't care.

"The conversations, everyone has a right to speak as far as I am concerned. Ken was an amazing guy. I love him dearly and nothing anyone says will make me change that.”

Kwani Trust, said Kahora, is now working on a project to immortalize some of Binyavanga's works.

“Some of his work has been put on a website -- planetbinya.org -- but I think formalizing this in some kind of formal reader is an idea we are playing around with and it’s a collaboration between friends, family and we will be obviously discussing this later to come up with concrete plans” Kahora sais

Kenneth Binyavanga was 48 years old.

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