In Conversation With Billy Kahora

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This topic contains 51 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Billy Kahora 2 months, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #20493 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    Hey everyone that’s following this conversation. Billy is a little caught up so he wasn’t able to be online at the scheduled 12 noon. He’ll log on later in the day once he’s settled and answer the questions so you can still leave yours there. Cheers.

    This week in the In Conversation series, we are engaging with Kenya’s own Billy Kahora.

    Billy Kahora is a writer and his short fiction and creative non-fiction has appeared in Chimurenga, McSweeney’s, Granta Online, Internazionale and Vanity Fair and Kwani. He has written a non-fiction novella titled The True Story Of David Munyakei and more recently a short story collection, The Cape Cod Bicycle War, which he is currently promoting actively.

    He was highly commended by the 2007 Caine Prize judges for his story Treadmill Love; his story Urban Zoning was shortlisted for the prize in 2012, The Gorilla’s Apprentice in 2014. He wrote the screenplay for Soul Boy and co-wrote Nairobi Half Life which won the Kalasha awards. He is now working on a novel titled The Applications.

    He has been awarded Writers fellowships in Italy, U.K, Germany, Denmark and South Africa. He is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol. He is a founding partner of Saseni! a creative writing teaching platform.

    Billy has been also Managing Editor of Kwani Trust, a Nairobi based literary network and has edited 7 issues of the Kwani journal and other Kwani publications including Nairobi 24 and Kenya Burning. He is also a Contributing Editor with the Chimurenga Chronic and sits on the board of Numbi a London based network of Somali writers. He edited the Sci-Fi anthology Imagine 500 with Malawiian writers.

    He has also been Kwani Litfest Curator since 2008 – in 2015 he curated Kwani Litfest 2015 Writers In Conversation: Beyond The Map Of English.

    He is a past recipient of the Chevening Scholarship, an Iowa Writer’s Fellowship and recently the President’s award at the University of Manchester to study for a PhD in Creative Writing.

    Billy Kahora is evidently a highly experienced and accomplished player in the African literature scene so join us as we find out how he’s managed to do so much and what we should expect in his new short story collection.

    Procedure for participation is simple:

    – Scroll to the bottom of this page and use the form there to ask your question or hit reply to one of the existing responses and use the form to reply to that.
    – Ask your question and wait for Billy’s reply.

    He will enter the conversation Friday 21st June 2019 at 12 NOON GMT +3 and exit when we run out of questions/when he is tired, whichever comes first. But feel free to leave your question before the session starts and he will answer when it starts.

  • #20494 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    Hey Billy. Thank you for agreeing to chat with us here. To quickly start the conversation, tell us about your new short story collection, The Cape Cod Bicycle War. How many stories are in there? How long did it take you to write them? Why did you chose Cape Cod Bicycle War for the title story?

    • #20526 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Hi Roland, 11 stories. These stories span my writing career since 2006. Back then I only worked on short stories. And when I started getting published regularly I soon realised I had 6 stories that I thought were pretty good. I also had a few others that were pretty bad. I had been working on a novel for 2 years and I was quite frustrated with it and I thought let me take a break with the short form and when I revived 3 old ideas and finished some new stories I realised all of them had relatively youthful characters and I could put them together as a collection.

  • #20495 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Hola Billy! Welcome to this session of ‘In Conversation’. First of all I am fan of your work, so forgive me for fangirling a bit. Maybe I’ll start with. How are you?

    • #20533 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I’m good. How are you?

  • #20496 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    What is your writing process like?

    • #20534 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      When I’m starting on a story, piece I try to clear as much time as possible – minimum 5 days and work full out. Minimum 5 hours a day till I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. I try to start as early as possible. The best writing for me happens between 2.30 and 5 a.m and then I go back to bed. When I’m editing I do 2-3 hours before 9 a.m 5 days a week all the time and then get on with the business of life i.e family, work … friends … youtube, Netflix in no particular order of importance

  • #20497 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    You have such an impressive CV, but I know you first as a writer. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

    • #20535 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      When I failed at my first degree course at the University of Nairobi … I was doing Quantity Surveying.

  • #20498 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    You are part of a panel at the upcoming Africa Writes on How to Reach the Readers: Publishing in Africa. One of the questions for you and the other panelists in the session description is, ‘Is the excitement of e-readers and digital distribution all it’s cracked up to be?’. Part of our plans as Obukiko is digital distribution of Africa literature. Are you able to share some thoughts on that here? Feel free to expand to other observations you might have on how to reach readers…

    • #20527 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Write your own code. Make sure you figure out the money side. Retain your offline aesthetics. Do some research – people are still reading books.

  • #20499 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    As an editor, what do you think makes a good story? What do you look for when reading stories?

    • #20536 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      A moment that stays in your head for a long time.

  • #20500 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

    • #20537 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I honestly can’t really remember

  • #20501 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    How has acquiring a PhD in Creative writing affected your craft? Also, what is your research focus for the PhD and what insights can you share with us from this research?

    • #20528 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I’m still working on the PhD. Narrative voice. For me voice is probably the most important technician aspect of writing.

  • #20502 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

    • #20538 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      It’s only the reader who can make that judgement. I think stories and novels rather than writers. Short stories: there are many but Ha Jin’s When Chicken Cowboy Came To Town’ is up there. John Cheever’s ‘Goodbye My Brother’. Creative Non-Fiction: Jonny Steinbeck’s ‘Midlands’. Memoir: Noni Jabavu’s “Red Ochre. The novel” Patrick Chamoiseau’s ‘Texaco’. And many more.

  • #20503 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    All you stories are wonderful and I can’t wait to dig into Cape Cod Bicycle War. Where do you draw your inspiration from? And have you ever written a story about someone you met or someone in your life?

    • #20539 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I do that all the time. My stories are based on experience and then I try make them interesting as possible though the imagination.

  • #20504 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    With all the busy-ness of your schedule (Did I mention what an impressive CV you have?), how do you decompress?

    • #20540 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Party. Exercise. Steam sauna. Rugby. NBA

  • #20505 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

    • #20541 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      They are not either/or – I find online reading efficient because you can access it so many different ways. Books are pleasurable

  • #20506 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    What book made you fall in love with reading?

    • #20542 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Mzee Nyachote. The Orange Thieves. Tales of Wamugumo Enid Blyton.

  • #20507 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Which books would you recommend for an African Millennial to read?

    • #20543 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Short stories: Ha Jin’s When Chicken Cowboy Came To Town’ is up there. John Cheever’s ‘Goodbye My Brother’. Creative Non-Fiction: Jonny Steinbeck’s ‘Midlands’. Memoir: Noni Jabavu’s “Red Ochre. The novel” Patrick Chamoiseau’s ‘Texaco’. And many more.

  • #20508 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    What do your plans for future projects include?

    • #20544 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Establishing a creative writing teaching platform on the continent. Finishing my novel.

  • #20509 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    If you could choose three authors, dead or alive, to invite for muchomo and drinks, who would they be and why?

    • #20545 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      James Baldwin. Martin Amis

  • #20510 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Picture this: You feel uninspired and you’ve sat at the computer for an hour without conquering any words. How do you get your creativity flowing?

    • #20546 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I read when the writing is not happening. If this doesn’t happen I turn to youtube and try the next day.

  • #20511 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    A standing ovation for all that Kwani Trust has done for the literary scene in the East Africa and the Sub-Saharan region. As managing editor, where do you see Kwani? in a few years from now.

    • #20517 Reply

      Byagaba Roland
      Keymaster

      Related, how do you feel about the current state of literature in Kenya? Any new titles/authors that are exciting for you? How about the institutions…Storymoja didn’t have a festival last year, Enkare can’t seem to escape controversy, Kwani? itself isn’t as active as it was in its initial years…I’m probably paying too much attention to the not-so-bright side but if one wanted to know which institutions are a good starting point to understand what’s happening in the industry there, who should they look out for?

    • #20529 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Nobody likes to say it but the change in the funding landscape has changed things. That has dried up. Kwani, Storymoja, Go Down, Sarakasi all came up during a new political and economic time – Kenya is a tough place nowadays and the hustle is not as easy.

      Literary beefs have always been part of the fabric of these things and they are as old as time. Plato and Aristotle beefed. What I don’t like is how they take attention away from the work. Enkare has done some great stuff and for me that’s all that matters.

      I don’t follow the scene as much as I used to – family, my own writing. These are exciting times – there are just so many new great writers. Novuyo. Dwige. Abdul Adan. Jowhor Ile.

    • #20547 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      It’s hard to tell with Kwani?. Things are tough because the funding has dried up.

  • #20512 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Strange question but, what is your preferred font to write in?

    • #20548 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Not strange at all. Adobe Garamond Pro.

  • #20514 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    You wrote a moving eulogy about Binyavanga on Lithub (https://lithub.com/binyavanga-wainaina-billy-kahora/) when he passed on. As someone that knew him from school and then worked with him at Kwani?, what would be your 5 key lessons from him that any African writer should take to heart?

    • #20530 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      Generosity.
      Aesthetic standards.
      A good kind of insanity.
      A sense of humor.
      Creative anger.

  • #20515 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Would you say that it is important to get an education in Creative Writing to able to write?

    • #20549 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I don’t think you learn to write in any formal writing teaching. I think you learn how to rewrite and all the technical things that might make your work better.

  • #20518 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    Fellowships, scholarships, prizes, curating and speaking at festivals, mentoring, features in literary magazines…you’ve pretty much participated in the ‘cycle’ of making it as an African writer. Which of these do you think are most helpful when one is building a career in the industry and which ones do you feel might not have helped you that much?

    • #20531 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      All are important as long as you are getting the word count in. What doesn’t help is touring without a book. Concentrate on the book, the story …

  • #20519 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    Your bio mentions Saseni!, a creative writing teaching platform which you founded and Numbi, a London based network of Somali writers of which you are on the board. What encouraged you to be a part of these two and how are they different from the other platforms and networks that have existed on the continent for some time now?

    • #20532 Reply

      Billy Kahora

      I think its important to formalize and structure stuff. For a long time we (kwani and other projects) just didn’t do that and lost a lot of material. Now I’ve realized how important proper structures are.

      Numbi publishes a lot of good stuff about stuff you don’t see that much on the continent. For a long time there were no formal creative writing programs on the continent outside of South Africa. I see it as a major growth area.

  • #20520 Reply

    Ronald Ssekajja

    I am too late to chip in

  • #20550 Reply

    Billy Kahora

    Thanks Obukiko for hosting me today. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join the conversation on time. Do look out for my short story collection at a bookshop near you and various literary events I’ll be attending to promote it.

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