(NAIROBI, Kenya) — One of Africa’s best-known authors, Binyavanga Wainaina, has died at age 48, a colleague and friend said Wednesday.
Tom Maliti, the chairman of the Kwani Trust which Wainaina founded, told The Associated Press the Kenyan author died Tuesday night in Nairobi after an illness.
Wainaina, who won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, was a key figure in the artistic community who promoted local authors. Friends and supporters in an outpouring of tributes on Wednesday shared his work including his biting essay “How to Write About Africa.”
“Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title,” it began. “Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’.”
Wainaina also helped to create tolerance for the LGBT community by coming out publicly as gay in Kenya, a country where laws still criminalize homosexual behavior. He also revealed he was HIV-positive.
After he came out, Time magazine in 2014 named him one of the “100 most influential people.” Fellow author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote there that Wainaina “demystified and humanized homosexuality,” saying he decided to speak openly after the death of a friend: “He felt an obligation to chip away at the shame that made people like his friend die in silence.”
Wainaina’s death comes just days before a long-awaited court ruling in Kenya on Friday on whether to abolish laws that criminalize homosexual behavior. Kenyan laws, like in many other African countries that outlaw same-sex relations, are vestiges of British colonial rule.