Randall Kenan

Randall Kenan

Randall Kenan’s collection of stories, If I Had Two Wings, was published by W.W. Norton & Co. in August, 2020.

His novel, A Visitation of Spirits, was published by Grove Press in 1989, and a collection of stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, was published in 1992 by Harcourt, Brace. That collection was nominated for The Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was among The New York Times Notable Books of 1992.

He was also the author of a young adult biography of James Baldwin (1993) and wrote the text for Norman Mauskoff’s book of photographs, A Time Not Here: The Mississippi Delta (1997). Kenan’s Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1999 and was nominated for the Southern Book Award. His The Fire This Time was published in May, 2007. He also edited and wrote the introduction for The Cross of Redemption: The Uncollected Nonfiction of James Baldwin in 2011 and The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food in 2016.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1963, and spent his childhood in Chinquapin, North Carolina. He graduated from East Duplin High School in Beulaville, North Carolina, after which he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received a B.A. in English and Creative Writing in 1985. From 1985 to 1989, he worked on the editorial staff of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in New York. In 1989, he began teaching writing at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. He was the first William Blackburn Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University in the fall of 1994, and the Edourd Morot-Sir Visiting Professor of Creating Writing at his alma mater in 1995. He was the John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi (1997-98), and held the Lehman-Brady Professorship at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (2003-04).

He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the John Dos Passos Prize, and the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2005, was made a Fellow of the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2007, and currently served as its Chancellor until 2018.

In a teaching career that spanned more than two decades, he was a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill for eight years.

Randall Kenaan died on August 28, 2020. He was 57.


Buy this book from your local bookstore or Bookshop.org.

Listen to Randall Kenan talk about what North Carolina means to him, in advance of his 2018 induction into the NC Literary Hall of Fame.

Courtesy of the NC Writers’ Network.

Listen to Randall Kenan give the Keynote Address at the NCWN 2018 Fall Conference, November 2, 2018, in Charlotte.

Courtesy of the NC Writers’ Network.

Watch Randall Kenan read his fiction at the 2016 Sewaanee Writers Conference:

Courtesy of the Sewanee Writers Conference.

Watch Randall Kenan give a tribute to James Baldwin:

Courtesy of the Lannan Foundation.

Watch Randall Kenan talk with D.G. Martin on NC Bookwatch:

Courtesy of UNC-TV.


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