The memoirist Binyavanga Wainaina is arguably the best-known Kenyan writer of his generation, a big-spirited iconoclast, the founder of the influential publisher/literary magazine Kwani?, was recently named one of Time‘s 100 most influential people–and is gay.
On its own, this should not be so remarkable. He himself writes that he has known since he was 5 years old. And while there were hints at his sexual identity in his award-winning memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, he did not address it, though he admits it was not a secret among his friends and peers.
But it was remarkable given his heritage. When Wainaina, born in Kenya but living in Senegal, came out in January–releasing a “lost chapter” in a fictionalized monologue telling his late mother that he was gay called “I am a homosexual, mum”–it was at a fraught time for LGBT people in Africa. Politicians in Uganda and Nigeria, for instance, were both mulling over draconian anti-gay laws that have since been passed.
But still, Wainaina felt compelled to speak out. “It seemed to me at a time when there was escalating pressure on the ability of queer Africans to live freely,” he told Maclean’s, “that it would be a kind of reductive hypocrisy for me to remain silent.”
Here, Wainaina reads a selection from the “lost chapter.”