Billy Kahora was the Quay Words writer-in-residence at Exeter Custom House for Spring 2024.

Here are his thoughts being selected for the residency:

“I can’t thank Literature Works enough for this opportunity which will continue rooting my writing in the South West while also helping me stay in touch with that of the African continent through the work of visiting poet Olive Olusegun.”

About Billy Kahora

Billy Kahora has written a non-fiction novella titled The True Story Of David Munyakei (2010) and a short story collection, The Cape Cod Bicycle War (2019). His story Urban Zoning was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for Africa Writing 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. His short fiction and creative non-fiction has appeared in

Chimurenga, McSweeney’s, Granta Online, Internazionale, Vanity Fair and Kwani. He has just completed a novel titled Babilon Falling. He is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol and is also a founding partner of Saseni! a creative writing teaching platform leading writing workshops in East Africa and Bristol. He recently co-edited an issue of Wasafiri around Human Rights Cultures.

He was Managing Editor of Kwani Trust, a Nairobi based literary network and edited 7 issues of the Kwani journal and other Kwani publications including Nairobi 24 and Kenya Burning. He was also Kwani Litfest Curator between 2008 – 2017 curating several chapters of the festival – in 2015 he curated Kwani Litfest: Writers In Conversation: Beyond The Map Of English. During his time at Kwani? he extensively curated numerous events and workshops including Kwani? @ Performa in New York. He has recently moderated events at Africa Writes Exeter in 2021-2023 talking to writers such Irenosen Okojie and Leila Abouleila.

Billy is a past recipient of the Chevening Scholarship, an Iowa Writer’s Fellowship and recently the President’s award at the University of Manchester where he received his PhD in Creative Writing in November 2023. He has been awarded Writers fellowships in Italy, U.K, Germany, Denmark and South Africa.

Babilon Falling

Billy used the period of the residency to further explore what place might mean to the creation of a verbal art in my novel-in-progress titled Babilon Falling, which is mostly set in far-off Nairobi. The events below led him to rewrite parts of the novel, and he has since shared with us the results:

→ Experiments in the multi-vocal: Excerpts of 5 voices from a novel-in-progress titled Babilon Falling


Billy planned the following events to engage with the theme of Heritage.

Writing Voice: Enhancing Speech Forms in Your Work
Saturday 9th March • 2-4pm

In this workshop, Billy discussed strategies to enhance the sense of the spoken in your fiction to anchor it in the specific rhythms of place and setting.

Exploring Heritage
with visiting International Writer-in-Residence Olive Olusegun
Sunday 24th March • 6.30-8.30pm

Olive and Billy performed read from their work, followed by a conversation and Q&A to discuss shared themes that arose during their time in residence at Exeter Custom House. They explored  the season theme of heritage in relation to their work, the individual, and wider social and political context of their respective African ancestry.