At the end of last year, the Kenyan writer Isaac Otidi Amuke published a piece on his friendship with the late Binyavanga Wainaina, who passed on in May 2019 at 48. Entitled “Knowing Binyavanga” and released on The Elephant, it reveals details of the great writer’s last ten years, from his time as Director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College through his coming out as gay to his increasing illness. Since 2017, Amuke, a finalist for the 2016 CNN Multichoice Africa Journalist of the Year Awards and the 2018 Gerald Kraak Prize, has run Planet Binya, a website collecting all of Binyavanga’s writing online.
Here is a short excerpt.
‘‘I want to go and drink in River Road, where you guys used to drink,’’ Binyavanga told me, wanting to experience Nairobi’s underbelly, where broke University of Nairobi students and those staying in cheap downtown hostels engaged in debauchery. It had all started a month or so earlier. I had shared with him bits and pieces of a memoir on student activism that I had been working on. That story seemed to make Binyavanga want to talk for hours on end, as if wanting to discover a part of Kenya he wasn’t familiar with, including drinking in Nairobi’s dingy backstreet bars.
I had instigated our chance meeting weeks earlier through a random Facebook message. After a year of seeking and being granted asylum in Uganda following an untidy spillover of my student activism, I had returned to Kenya in early 2010, broke and broken. Sitting in a Kenya National Commission on Human Rights safe house in Nairobi’s Kilimani neighbourhood, I started writing a memoir, later deciding to share a section of it with someone I considered a literary authority, wanting to know whether it was all just trash. I settled on Binyavanga, at the time Director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College in New York. I wrote him one of those possibly irritating I-know-nothing-about-publishing-but-I-think-I’m-onto-something messages, suspecting he received tens of those at a time. Luckily, Binyavanga responded in under ten minutes, saying he was busy but wouldn’t mind having a look. He shared his email address, and asked me to send him a chapter. He emailed back in less than 30 minutes.
‘‘Where are you?’’ Binyavanga wrote, ‘‘Are you safe?’’
Continue reading on The Elephant.