•There’s little doubt that Billy Kahora is the right man to be steering Kwani? since he, like the other writers who appear in the cutting-edge literary journal, is young, ambitious, imaginative and alive to the limitless possibilities that literature has to offer.
If Billy Kahora had completed his studies at the University of Nairobi and become a quantity surveyor as was his original plan, we would have likely missed the scriptwriter for Soul Boy and Nairobi Half-Life.
We would also have missed the short story writer whose work has been short-listed for the Caine Prize, who wrote The True Story of David Munyakei: Goldenberg Whistleblower; and perhaps most importantly, we would have lost one of the key driving forces behind Kwani?, Kenya’s premiere literary journal that has just celebrated its tenth anniversary and has showcased countless young writers, poets, photographers, cartoonists, illustrators and other kinds of visual artists.
Fortunately, Mr Kahora figured out before it was too late that he needed to change tack and try following his primary passion, which was to become a journalist and creative writer.
He dropped out of the university after his second year and found a place at Rhodes University in South Africa to study journalism.
He earned his first degree in 2004 and was well on his way to completing his second degree in Media Studies when again he realised he didn’t want to become a media academic.
Instead, he recalled what he really wanted to do, which was to write both fiction and creative non-fiction.
But even before he’d made up his mind, Mr Kahora was already writing award-winning ‘flash fiction’. The Girl at the End of the Sand earned him a short story prize at the prestigious Grahamstown Book Festival.
And despite staying down south until 2004, he kept a close watch on Kenya’s cultural scene.
For instance, he watched online as Binyavanga Wainaina won the Caine Prize in 2001 and then went on to launch Kwani? in 2003.
Mr Kahora even sent Mr Wainaina his most recent short story, Applications, about a woman who lost her mind during the darkest days of the Moi era.
“Binyavanga wanted to publish my story but before he did, I was back in Kenya and the first two editions of Kwani? were already out,” he recalled.