The Binj, a larger-than-life personality who, through sheer force of will, opened up the literary space for young African writers who have gone on to give us some of the best writing in generations.
A story of an unlikely friendship, a chronicle of the final years of the late Kenyan writer Binyavanga’s life, from the perspective of a former student activist discovered on the brink of despair and mentored into a writer.
That time. That place. We started something together. With him at its heart. With his own big and encompassing heart - he dragged us all in, we swirled and twirled around him.
Literary scholars have a way of frowning upon other literary media not in their stable. Poets often assume theirs is the best medium. Those who study prose think it is the only serious discipline in the department. But Binyavanga was keen not to bring the scholarly cherry picking and the endemic genre in-fighting. He allowed Kwani? to incorporate everything artistic. And the results were amazing.
Through writing, he is getting a second chance at life. Self-motivation. Self-education. This resonates loudly with many of us who have been let down by the colonial structure of African education systems that emphasise obedience over creativity.
There is no doubt that Binyavanga Wainaina forever changed the literary landscape in Kenya, opening it up to a new generation of Kenyans who are no longer afraid to experiment or innovate.
What a brief wondrous life! What a moving force! What an acceleration! He moved so frantically through life, ideas and spaces that it is difficult to imagine he has transitioned.
We cannot think of our continent as a hostile place. Too many of us have learnt to fear it. And I feel that if you trust it, engage with it and be involved with it in the conversations of building as adventurers, that this continent will start to sing to us again.
The Kenya I grew up in felt isolated from the rest of the continent and the world. Kenyan writers were dissidents who lived abroad. Art was something only weird people did. At Kwani, the people and the stories, all that is beautiful, strange, sad, ugly, brave, and exciting about us, things we should not forget, were kept alive.