Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Letter to Binyavanga Wainaina

Dear Binyavanga, 

I was stupefied when they said you came out. You see, to me you have always been out here. At Kwani? Open Mic, at The Sunday Salon, at UoN during Chimamanda Ngozi lecture, at many forums even on #TheTrend you were out. 

Your genius; which I have felt and seen has been out here, with me. I admit I haven’t read your memoir but that ‘lost chapter’ has given me a glimpse of what terrific writing awaits me to gobble. Perhaps when you see this you will hand me down a copy? Just Kidding. 

But Binya, you and I know that you have done a lot to Kenya and to a larger extent Africa by your industriousness. Your eccentric personality and your ability to stir things up have seen Kwani? rise. And rise. Ten years later, Yvonne Owuor’s novel Dust has captured the tragedy of our country’s silence and the sanitized history that has been slowly fed down our masses that suffer selective amnesia.
So when somebody says you came out, where have they been? 

Honestly I swear, I am thoroughly impressed by how this has gone. I imagine James Baldwin in that novel “Go Tell it on the Mountain” explaining how awkward it was seeing boys in the washrooms and feeling a surge. A flicker. Then a glow. Then a fire that he couldn’t put off. And knowing quite well how the society would treat him if he said who he was. Then deciding to keep to himself in a prison for himself and by himself. Things changed later, but his society and ours are centuries apart.  (It’s been a long time since I read that text; I don’t have a copy for reference) 

But you Binyavanga has been like that for almost four decades! 

When I hear the phrase ‘come out’ I don’t think of it in that way. It takes me back to my grandpa’s shamba. To the seven days of waiting for my maize seeds to germinate from a small shamba given to me. I’d wait and count. Until the day I could see some yellowish leaves prick the soil and slowly rise from ground and out to go after the sun. They’d come out. 

I think about waiting for the sun to pierce the sky on a chilly morning to drive the cold away as I walked to school barefoot. And I think about the day when my grandpa and I waited, and waited as our cow lay there. Almost helpless. Then the head and a leg of our calf thrust out. And we pulled; then most beautiful black and white calf came out in what to me was just mucus. 

So when they say you came out. They haven’t been seeing you. I can’t imagine how free you now feel. How liberating must it be to know that you are now true to yourself! 

There are things we choose and there are those that choose us. So what if?
You are still the person I look at in awe. You are the writer I want to be.  I wish ‘I One Day Will  Write Like Binyavanga’ 

Otieno Owino.



  1. I pray that you write like him but be you.

    1. Thanks. I love how open that statement sounds.