Ngwatilo Mawiyoo: Do you remember [the] story that appeared in the newspapers a few years ago about how a man survived being eaten by a python? I heard about it because the Concerned Kenyan Writers group discussed the story. I think it was Binyavanga who half seriously concluded that it’s no wonder fiction seems irrelevant in Kenya, since reality itself is so far out! With your fiction writer hat on, what do you think is the work or potential of fiction in Kenya?
Billy Kahora: Reality is not only far out in Kenya. It is far out in Mpumalanga, Western Virginia, North New Zealand, Chenai, Chernobyl. Do you know how many people survive being eaten by anacondas in South America?
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.
- Billy Kahora, managing editor of Kenya's leading literary institution, Kwani?, in conversataion with Ngwatilo Mawiyoo over at One Ghana, One Voice. You can read the whole thing here.