Wordsmiths' glowing tributes for Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina with writers Yvonne Owuor and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during a Kwani? book party. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Some turned to poetry. Others chose brief but thoughtful reactions. In all, it was a testament of how the fallen writer and activist left people with a desire to express themselves as freely as they could.

Binyavanga Wainaina was a wordsmith and his fellow writers are trying to find the best words to express their loss following his death on Tuesday night.

Some turned to poetry. Others chose brief but thoughtful reactions. In all, it was a testament of how the fallen writer and activist left people with a desire to express themselves as freely as they could.

We bring you some of the reactions.


Adhiambo was a product of the mentoring Binyavanga provided through Kwani?, the literary journal he founded in 2002. It was at Kwani? that Adhiambo’s story Weight of Whispers was first published, before winning her the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2003.

Adhiambo chose to celebrate Binyavanga through a poem that she posted on Facebook. It is here in full:

He worshipped life.
Dived into it head first, broke his head on the rocks.
Didn’t matter. The rocks also shattered.
& out of old fragments, ten thousand still lives rub open their eyes and emerge.
An army made out of words, called into being by the mad, fierce cosmic summoning of this one who saw, who knew, who believed in another ‘us’, a wilder, fiercer, flamboyant (as he was) African ‘us’ writing our universe and then more, and then others.
Goodnight, darling, goodnight.
Today, and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow...look...there is no one word that can contain (for me) the meaning of this, your crossing...(Look)…Next year maybe, or the year after that..
But today my love, as you stride (past us) towards those dim, unknown horizons….
A frantic, futile howl inside the wordlessness of this the darkest of nows…(a phrase that has been cried out before in disbelief....):
Requiescat in pace!
My brother. My friend. My teacher. My champion. Iconoclast.
Oh my human! My human!
Good night, again. Goodnight, my love.

She is one of Kenya’s most famed cultural commentators. She is also the author of [email protected]: Trends, Identities and the Politics of Belonging. Dr Nyairo took to Twitter to mourn Binyavanga.

  • What immense talent; what an enormous personality; a child of luck who beckoned opportunities like a magnet, Binya leaves an indelible foot-print in the sands of that surge of creativity and production that defined Kenya in the new millennium.


The controversial author, who has written To Grasp at a Star among other works, posted a short comment on Facebook to mourn a fellow writer.

  • I woke up today and was tears all morning. I was feeling lost and alone in the forest. And then just in the middle of all that, I get news of Binyavanga Wainaina passing on. That unleashed a whole new whirlpool of tears. Two months after Pius Adesanmi. I feel orphaned, and something else I don't often feel. I feel bereft.


The veteran lecturer and literary critic penned a moving tribute that explained one of the terms Binyavanga inspired him to coin.

  • We have lost a refined writer and thinker. The last time I interacted with him was at KBC Books Cafe. I also had very interesting conversation with him in the press that led to my coinage of the expression “Literary gangsters” which I used to refer to a group of young Kenyan writers under Kwani logo and who have been doing great things.


A celebrated book reviewer, Dr Njoya waxed lyrical on Facebook as she reflected on Binyavanga’s death.

The gods have gone crazy. They have taken a second intellectual pillar in the space of a few months.

Binyavanga knew that Kenya was crazy. He knew that there was something deeply inauthentic and insincere about Kenya. He knew that the Christian, middle class nonsense some of us were raised on was preventing us from being whole.

And he struggled to be whole. To openly love whom he loved. To take his art where his imagination took it.

I first met Binyavanga in form six, when we went to Lenana School for the national drama festivals finals. We were both acting for our schools. Then we were in KU together for a brief moment before he left for South Africa. When I was in the US, he came to the college I was at to listen to my lecture. Can you imagine? It was such a pleasant surprise. I didn’t even know he was in the US.

When we came back, we met off and on and tried to be intellectuals and artists in this very dysfunctional space called Kenya. Binyavanga left us a rich legacy: Kwani?, the arts festivals and celebrations of urban creativity, against a rigid literati of the education system, especially at the university literature departments.

Those of us who grew up in the fake, Stepford Wives scenario that was the Kenyan Christian evangelical, bourgeois, heterosexual family are too shy, or too twisted, to admit that we grew up on a very dysfunctional social model. Binyavanga knew. And he tried to tell us.

Rest in love, my brother.

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