April 28, 2014
Gay Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina makes the Time 100
by Nick Davies
In January, Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina came out as gay, following the passage of a wave of anti-gay laws in Africa. Having grown up in a country where homosexuality is often vilified, Wainaina was forced, for a long time, to conceal that part of his identity; his decision to come out publicly earned him a place in this year’s Time 100, the magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people from the past year.
Wainaina came to prominence in the early 2000s, as the founder of Kwani?, Africa’s first literary magazine since Transition (published in Uganda and Ghana from 1961-1976, and revived in the US by Henry Louis Gates in 1991). He won the Caine Prize, for short fiction by an African writer, in 2002, and published his first book in 2011—a memoir titled One Day I Will Write About This Place.
In January, he released a short story that he called a “lost chapter” of that memoir, “I Am a Homosexual, Mum,” later confirming on Twitter:
I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homsexual. Gay, and quite happy.
— Binyavanga Wainaina (@BinyavangaW) January 20, 2014
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes for the Time 100:
The best-known Kenyan writer of his generation, he felt an obligation to chip away at the shame that made people like his friend die in silence.
By publicly and courageously declaring that he is a gay African, Binyavanga has demystified and humanized homosexuality and begun a necessary conversation that can no longer be about the “faceless other.”
Wainaina isn’t the only LGBTQ figure honored on the list. There are three international versions of the cover, one of which features Jason Collins, the first publicly out basketball player in the NBA.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.