Binyavanga Wanaina is arguably one of the most important Queer African writers in the last century. Although, when I think of him I see images of a colourful, opinionated character popping up on my social media feed.
The tall, dark, expressionistic man proudly wearing a floor length skirt, purple top and multi-coloured hair. His eyes glaring at the camera as if daring you, the viewer, to even try and say something. At the same time though, those eyes betray a gentleness in him that disarms one easily.
I first realized the importance of this ancestor in his 2014 essay “I am homosexual, mum”, where in it he re-imagines the last days of his mother’s life, in which he goes to her deathbed and tells her the truth about his sexuality. The letter was a courageous coming out in defiance to the persistent climate of anti-gay legislation on the African continent. That was also the year he was named on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Yes, he was indeed larger than life, an embodiment of Afro-queerness. In his famous essay “How to write about Africa”, Binyavanga Wanaina cheekily challenged the entrenched stereotypes and clichés often perpetuated by western authors about the perceptions and notions on Africa. With his sharp wit and wild uninhibited nature inspired a renaissance in queerness across the continent.
He stood against homophobia and the religious indoctrination that he felt was in part responsible for keeping the continent in the grip of its colonial, neo-social and technocratic legacy. Wanaina was a force of nature who inspired a new generation of African writers and made an undeniable mark on literature from the continent.
When I think of him, I think of the words off his series: We must free our imagination, where in it he says, “I want to live a life of free imagination. I want to work with people from around this continent to make new and exciting things… [I want to see] African kids, see other Africans
writing their own stories… that simple act, of being free to imagine, is the most political act one can have!”
Words: Treyvone Moo