Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie paid homage to Binyavanga Wainaina yesterday evening, in a touching message read out at an event at Wits University in Johannesburg.
The event was titled ‘How to Write About Everything’—echoing Wainaina’s famous essay ‘How to Write About Africa’—and featured Bangalore-based featured researcher and writer Achal Prabhala and lecturer Danai Mupotsa in conversation with the Kenyan writer.
Wainaina suffered a series of minor strokes in 2015, and as a result his speech is somewhat impaired. He has been living in Johannesburg since April this year, but this event was his first major public appearance, and the atmosphere was feverish in the crowded venue.
Prabhala kicked off proceedings with a note from Adichie, whose friendship with Wainaina goes back many years:
Binyavanga is one of my closest friends. He is one of the writers whose work I most admire. I think he is a great and rare and genuine talent.
We disagree fiercely, and sometimes we are surprised when we agree fiercely. He is pure in an old-fashioned, endearing and sometimes infuriating sort of way. He has an astonishing insight into history and politics, a sense that he knows how the world works, and yet is too trusting—ridiculously so. He gives things away; his instinct is to believe any story of a powerless person, no matter how manipulative.
He has a kind of yearning for an African utopia, and it’s because of his glorious heart, his capacity for love.
Once, when we had a fight and I was in the wrong but did not acknowledge it then, he taught me grace; what real friendship means, and for that I will always be grateful. I love him, I respect him, I admire him, and I’m glad he finally listened to me about the cut of his kaftans.
Wainaina discussed his relationship with other writers, his plans to write a novel, and how he is becoming his true self. Keep an eye on The JRB for more coverage of this event.