Renowned Kenyan author and gay rights activist Binyavanga Wainaina has died, a friend with direct knowledge told CNN. He was 48.
Wainaina died in a Nairobi hospital on Tuesday night following a short illness, the friend who did not want to be named said. Wainaina, the founder of the literary magazine Kwani, had previously suffered a stroke in 2015.
He was a prolific author who won the Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Discovering Home” in 2002.
Before he suffered a stroke, Wainaina had been awarded a one-year writing residency in Germany.
Wainaina was never one to shy away from controversy and was one of the most high-profile people to publicly declare their sexuality in Africa, where homosexuality is largely seen as taboo.
In a 2014 article titled “I Am a Homosexual, Mum,” Wainaina wrote: “Never, mum. I did not trust you, mum. And. I. Pulled air hard and balled it down into my navel, and let it out slow and firm, clean and without bumps out of my mouth, loud and clear over a shoulder, into her ear. I am a homosexual, mum.”
He later tweeted that “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.”
Wainaina also announced on Twitter on Worlds Aid Day 2016 that he was HIV positive.
In a 2014 Time magazine article, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote of Wainaina: “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.”
Binyavanga Wainaina was a champion of African art, creativity and culture. In 2010, he conceived an idea to promote African writing via the Pilgrimage project—a venture that would see 14 African writers take on African cities in a bid to write Africa’s biggest travel book.
“The idea is to introduce our cities to ourselves, because Africans are always seeing each other through someone else’s eyes.
“For example, people travel backwards and forwards between London and Lagos, or New York and Nairobi, but not between African countries.
“There have been very few African travel books by African writers, so this will create a whole new genre in one swoop,” he told CNN at the time.
Tributes have since poured in on Twitter to him.