Billy Kahora is one third of our judging trio for 2015 The Short Story Day Africa, themed around #Water. He is highly qualified for this role. In the past he has served as a judge for both the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (2009) and the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2014).
Billy is an acclaimed writer himself, having caught the attention of the Caine Prize in 2014, 2012 and 2007. He penned the script for Hawa Essuman's film Soul Boy, a collaboration with German director Tom Kykwer. He is probably most known, however, for his dedicated work at Kwani? Trust where he has been managing editor since 2008. He holds a MSc in Creative Writing with distinction at the University of Edinburgh as a Chevening Scholar. He also holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree and a post-graduate diploma in Studies from Rhodes University.
Billy was in his teens when he first began to explore writing as a way of trying to explain his surroundings. "Wanting to be a writer came from trying to make sense of all that was happening, but it also came comes from a love of books and words that didn’t need to be explained." (1)
When asked, "What are your greatest concers as an editor and a writer?" by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo in an interview for One Ghana One Voice, Billy replied,
"The general lack of [literary] tools in the material we receive. When present, those with these tools seem disconnected from local realities, narratives and expressions. One specific technical question I've being trying to grapple with for the last few years is the dearth of 'honest' voice - that which brings forth a real subjective experience located in our idea and experience as a space but understands literature as an artistic register with aesthetics, technical rules and a larger vision. It is often ‘either, or.’ Many writers have access to interesting subjective experience but hardly understand the aesthetics of literary narrative. Those who seem to grasp the latter might well be writing from Mars - which is actually fine - if you are in Mars. (Please understand that my comments are written with a certain bias for literary mimetic representations)." (2)
In the same interview, he commented:
"Great fiction is not written in places where reality is 'far in'. Fiction is written in places where people have a grasp on language (both written and oral) that is highly relevant to the material conditions of the society they live in. It’s written in places that have a storytelling tradition that has internalized that society's culture and economy within the same language(s).
Great fiction happens in places where those languages and storytelling traditions can be streamlined into today's primarily capitalist and modern world, and the publishing offshoots and all the technical processes and mechanisms that come with it.
Stories are a prerequisite of humanity. Whether a society can convert story into a genre, industry, system under its prevailing cultural and economic conditions is what counts in its production of fiction. And Kenya, according to me, struggles in these three conditions to create a serious fiction industry that is sustainable and ongoing. We will continue doing piecemeal things for a while and making excuses as we go along till we address those three primary things. " (3)
Which may hint at what Billy will be looking for in the winning story when he judges the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize.