Teacherly aesthetics: Literature and literacy in Binyavanga Wainaina’s works

Keywords: African literature, autobiography, critical pedagogy, self-writing, orality, teacherliness, Binyavanga Wainaina


In this paper I use the concept of teacherliness to explore the connections between literature and education in Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and his opinion pieces on education. I read Wainaina’s texts against the way the literature/literacy duality has been envisioned in historical discourses, arguing that deeper pedagogical questions were largely overlooked in the intersections between the two theoretical fields. To address this lacuna, I use Paulo Freire’s theory of Critical Pedagogy to analyze historical debates of curriculum and canonization, as well as Wainaina’s more recent engagement with the Kenyan educational system, in which questions on how to write are intertwined with thoughts on how to teach. After detailing this history of literature and literacy in East Africa, I explore the themes and aesthetic devices that Wainaina develops in One Day to reflect on his own role as an educator in the context of his troubled relationship with his own schooling. By focusing on the theme of failure and Wainaina’s embedding of oral structures into his text, I suggest Wainaina’s work offers insights and concrete narrative patterns that might become fruitful tools through which educational theory and literary analysis might illuminate each other’s blind spots, specifically in regard to oral skills in education.


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Author Biography

Ruth S. Wenske, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Ruth S. Wenske is a postdoctoral researcher at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and the head of the Africa Unit at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute.


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How to Cite
WenskeR. S. (2021). Teacherly aesthetics: Literature and literacy in Binyavanga Wainaina’s works. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 58(1), 61-75. https://doi.org/10.17159/tl.v58i1.8353
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