Kenyan author and activist Binyavanga Wainaina has died at the age of 48, the publication he founded announced.
Wainaina, the founder of the literary magazine Kwani, passed away following a short illness, the chairman of the Nairobi-based magazine told The Daily Nation newspaper on Wednesday.
Tom Maliti said the writer died a few minutes past 10pm (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday at a Nairobi hospital. In November 2015, Wainaina suffered a stroke.
Wainaina had won the Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story Discovering Home in 2002.
Following the passage of a series of anti-gay laws across Africa in 2014, Wainaina publicly announced that he was gay.
“I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy,” he tweeted.
In December 2016, Wainaina posted on Twitter that he was HIV-positive.
Time Magazine in 2014 included Wainaina in its list of the Most Influential People in the World.
Wainaina’s literary works include ‘How to Write About Africa’ (2006), ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir’ (2012), and ‘Nguva Na Nyoka’ (2016) meaning ‘Sirens and Serpents’ in Swahili.
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 behaviour.
After he came out as being gay, 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 behaviour. Kenyan laws, like in many other African countries that outlaw same-sex relations, are vestiges of British colonial rule.
Kenyan writer and commentator Nanjala Nyabola said Wainaina had shown Kenyans that literature was not just a way to express oneself – it could also be a valuable career:
“He reopened the possibilities of Kenyan literature,” she told the BBC’s Newsday programme.
Wainaina challenged Kenyans to rethink their negative stereotypes about homosexuality, Nyabola added.
“Inasmuch as homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, there are people who are very comfortable with their identity… but the public space for acceptance and respect has always been lacking and even characterised by violence,” Nyabola said.
“What he said is ‘look I’m here and I’m still the same person that you know and love and respect ‘… I think it’s incredibly powerful,” she added.