Kenyan writer and winner of the 2023 Graywolf African Fiction Prize Kiprop Kimutai is set to publish his debut novel in spring 2026. Published through Graywold Press, The Freedom of Birds is a queer novel set in Kenya.

Set in rural Kenya, Kimutai’s novel centers a young gay man risking everything to reclaim his home. It is the story of a Kenyan family and follows Bulei, a young man, and his mother Ferono. Having lost his job and his boyfriend, Bulei’s life in Nairobi disintegrates, and he decides to return to his rural hometown of Tolosio. He’s acutely aware of the dangers that await him there, but still goes home.

Inspired by a beguiling and self-possessed stranger he befriends on his way home—a man named Ahithophel—Bulei wonders if there is a way for him to take up his deceased father’s legacy and reclaim his homeplace. Ferono, on her own path of self-definition and securing a livelihood, also finds herself changed by Ahithophel’s presence, and by the new man she sees her son becoming.

The manuscript of Kimutai’s debut novel was chosen by judge Tsitsi Dangarembga along with Graywolf editors as the winning text for the 2023 Graywolf African Fiction Prize. Dangarembga called The Freedom of Birds “epic in scope and intimate in detail”:

The Freedom of Birds is a compassionate and beautiful novel about a family coping with its history and the harsh environment of a rural Kenyan community not often narrated in the country’s literature. I am stunned by Kiprop Kimutai’s bravery and restraint.

Graywolf publisher Carmen Giménez added they couldn’t be more excited to publish Kimutai’s wonderfully sensitive novel. Kimutai himself is excited about the win and upcoming publication:

I admire and applaud Graywolf Press for publishing global literatures, most notably Binyavanga’s memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, which showed me how a Kenyan experience could matter on the page. I am excited to be awarded the 2023 African Fiction Prize, not only for myself, but also because another Kenyan story, another Kenyan perspective, will now have the chance to be published and read by the rest of the world.

Kiprop Kimutai is a Kenyan writer whose fiction has appeared in No Tokens, the Johannesburg Review of Books, Kwani Trust, the Evergreen Review, and Jalada Africa. He is a 2023 Miles Morland scholar and was a finalist for the 2018 Gerald Kraak award. As this year’s Graywold winner, Kimutai will receive a $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf Press.

Congrats to Kimutai on his debut novel!