Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan author, journalist and winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Discovering Home.” He is the founding editor of Kwani?, a literary magazine about East Africa, where he has published several subsequent Caine Prize winners. Wainaina has also written for National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), Granta, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. He received a Lannan Writing Residency Fellowship in 2007. His first book, a memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, will be published in 2011 by Graywolf Press.
Wainaina’s story, “How to Write About Africa”, is the most forwarded story in Granta‘s history. He explains how the story came to be:
How to Write about Africa” grew out of an email. In a fit of anger, maybe even low blood sugar—it runs in the family—I spent a few hours one night at my graduate student flat in Norwich, England, writing to the editor of Granta. I was responding to its “Africa” issue, which was populated by every literary bogeyman that any African has ever known, a sort of ‘Greatest Hits of Hearts of Fuckedness.’ It wasn’t the grimness that got to me, it was the stupidity. There was nothing new, no insight, but lots of ‘reportage’—Oh, gosh, wow, look, golly ooo—as if Africa and Africans were not part of the conversation, were not indeed living in England across the road from the Granta office. No, we were ‘over there,’ where brave people in khaki could come and bear witness. Fuck that. So I wrote a long—truly long—rambling email to the editor.
Wainaina received a Lannan Writing Residency Fellowship in 2007. He is now a Bard Fellow and Director at the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Literature and Languages in Bard College. Of the media’s tendency to lump all African nations into one ball of crises, he has said, “We have learned to ignore the shrill screams coming from the peddlers of hopelessness. We motor on faith and enterprise, with small steps. On hope, and without hysteria.”