Randall Kenan

Randall Kenan
Born (1963-03-12) March 12, 1963 (age 57)

Brooklyn, New York, United States
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Randall Kenan is an American author who was born March 12, 1963 in Brooklyn, New York. At only six weeks old, Kenan moved to Duplin County, a small rural community in North Carolina, where he lived with his grandparents in a small town named Wallace. The setting of many of Kenan's novels are centered around his homeland of North Carolina. The focus of much of Kenan's work centers around on what it means to be black and gay in the southern United States. Some of Kenan's most notable works include the collection of short stories Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, named a New York Times Notable Book in 1992, A Visitation of Spirits, and The Fire This Time. Kenan is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award and the John Dos Passos Prize.

Biography [ edit ]

Early Life [ edit ]

Randall Kenan was born in Brooklyn, New York, but at only six weeks old he moved to a small town named Wallace where he lived with his grandparents. Kenan's grandparents ran a dry-cleaning business, and most of the time they were too busy to take care of Kenan themselves, so they hired someone to take care of him. On the weekends, Kenan's great-aunt Mary and great-uncle Redden would take him to their family farm which was located in Chinquapin, only about 15 miles east of Wallace. At three years old Kenan's great-uncle Redden died unexpectedly, and Kenan's grandfather suggested to his great-aunt Mary that she keep Kenan because she was alone. Kenan recalls the conversation and after that he remained with his great-aunt Mary for the remainder of his adolescent years. [1]

Kenan's great-aunt Mary, who he eventually called 'mama,' became a mentor for Kenan, and she taught him how to read at the age of four years old. Mary was a kindergarten teacher so she heavily supported education and began Kenan's education at a young age. He grew up loving to read everything ranging from novels to comic books to the Bible, and he eventually developed a love for storytelling. [2]

Kenan attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, beginning in the fall of 1981 and he graduated in 1985 with degrees in English and Creative Writing. In his freshman year of college Kenan was pursuing a physics degree, but found himself confused on what to pursue because he was not enjoying his classes. He then decided to enroll in a writing class lead by Max Steele, who is an editor for The Paris Review. Kenan also studied with the author Doris Betts who tried to get Kenan a job in publishing in New York city. Despite Doris Betts efforts, Kenan did not get a job in New York right away, and it was not until a few months after graduation that Kenan received an offer to work for the publication company Random House in New York City.

Professional Life [ edit ]

He was hired at Random House originally because the company "had gotten into trouble with the Equal Opportunity Commission" and they wanted to increase the number of minorities they had working at the company.[3]  After doing odd jobs at Random House, Kenan was able to secure a job at Alfred A. Knopf as a receptionist, where he had opportunities to study his craft.  Kenan worked at Knopf for only two months before he was promoted to assistant to the executive vice president, where he remained in that position for five years. While in the assistant position, until 1989, Kenan had the opportunity to edit dozens of books, which helped him improve in his own craft of storytelling. The experience working at Knopf helped Kenan in finalizing what would become his first published novel, A Visitation of Spirits, in 1992.

After publishing A Visitation of Spirits, Kenan began teaching at three different universities part time. He taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, and Vassar College once a week each, which gave him plenty of time to work on his own writing.[4] Kenan is currently, a full time professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has also served as a visiting writer or writing in residence at a number of other universities, including the University of Mississippi, the University of Memphis, Duke University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Writings [ edit ]

Kenan's first novel, A Visitation of Spirits, was published in 1989. While a few critics praised the book, it did not receive much attention, but this changed with the publication in 1992 of Kenan's second book, a collection of short stories titled Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. The stories, based in the fictional community of Tims Creek, focused on (among other things) what it meant to be poor, black, and gay in the southern United States. The book was hailed as a revival of classic southern literature and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named a New York Times Notable Book. The short story collection also brought renewed attention to his first novel, which was likewise set in Tims Creek.

External video
Booknotes interview with Kenan on Walking on Water, April 25, 1999, C-SPAN

In 1993, Kenan published a young adult biography of gay African American novelist and essayist James Baldwin. Kenan has frequently stated that Baldwin is one of his idols. He then spent several years traveling across America and Canada collecting oral histories of African Americans, which he published in Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century (1999).

Kenan has won a number of writing awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the John Dos Passos Prize, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In 2007 Kenan published The Fire This Time, a book whose title was taken from James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time. It is a work of nonfiction.

Kenan's book in progress is titled There's a Man Going 'Round Taking Names, which Kenan hopes to publish in the next few years.[5]

Bibliography [ edit ]

  • A Visitation of Spirits, Grove Press, 1989; Vintage, 2000 (ISBN 0-375-70397-7). Kenan's first novel.
  • Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, Harcourt, Brace, 1992 (ISBN 0-15-650515-0). Short story collection.
  • James Baldwin: American Writer (Lives of Notable Gay Men & Lesbians), Chelsea House Publications, 1993, 2005 (ISBN 0-7910-8389-6). Young adult biography.
  • A Time Not Here: The Mississippi Delta, Twin Palms Publishers, 1997 (ISBN 0-944092-43-8). Kenan wrote the text for this collection of photographs by Norman Mauskoff.
  • Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, Alfred A. Knopf, 1999; Vintage, 2000 (ISBN 0-679-73788-X). Nominated for the Southern Book Award.
  • The Fire This Time, Melville House Publishing, 2007 (ISBN 978-1933633244

References [ edit ]

  1. ^ Crank, James (2019). Understanding Randall Kenan. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 1–2.
  2. ^ Crank, James (2019). Understanding Randall Kenan. University of South Carolina Press. p. 3.
  3. ^ Crank, James (2019). Understanding Randall Kenan. University of South Carolina Press. p. 6.
  4. ^ Crank, James (2019). Understanding Randall Kenan. University of South Carolina Press. p. 9.
  5. ^ Crank, James (2019). Understanding Randall Kenan. University of South Carolina Press. p. 68.

External links [ edit ]

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