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Randall Kenan (1963–2020)

Author of Let the Dead Bury Their Dead

11+ Works 867 Members 11 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Raised in Chinquapin, North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in English and Creative writing (1985). He is a Black, gay Southerner which is the creative foundation for his work. Randall Kenan is the author of the novel A Visitation of Spirits show more (1989) and the short story collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (1992). The latter was nominated for the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. After the success of A Visitation of Spirits, Kenan began working on a new book. More than a dozen years ago, he rented a car and set out from New York on a cross-country journey to interview African Americans. The title of the book that resulted, Walking on Water (1999), comes from the story of slaves en route from Africa who commandeered their ship off the coast of Georgia around 1800. Legend has it that they walked off the ship to an unknown fate. In his book, Kenan attempts to learn that fate. His other books include James Baldwin: American Writer (1993), A Time Not Here: The Mississippi Delta (he wrote the text for this collection of photographs by Norman Mauskoff published in 1997), The Fire This Time (2007), and If I had Two Wings (2020), a short story collection. His awards include 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. When he isn't writing, Kenan teaches writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. He is also a contributor to the New York Times and The Nation and was once an assistant editor at Knopf. Randall Kenan had a stroke several years ago and had heart related problems. He died on August 28, 2020 at the age of 57. (P) (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: University of Mississippi Foundation

Works by Randall Kenan

Associated Works

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (2008) — Contributor — 517 copies
The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories (1994) — Contributor — 322 copies
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (2010) — Editor — 264 copies
The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to their Younger Selves (2012) — Contributor — 263 copies
The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology (1997) — Contributor — 98 copies
Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America (1995) — Contributor — 91 copies

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Reviews

Funny, informative, powerful - the way Mr. Kenan spoke when sitting directly across the table. One of the things I always appreciated - going back to The Fire This Time and Walking On Water, was Randall Kenan's determination to push back against stereotype - not letting the lives of Southerners or African Americans be reduced to a 'single story.'

The voices in this collection are memorable in their complexity, being both frail and heroic, i.e. fully human.

Sadly Randall Kenan left us far too soon with many great stories left untold - but this collection is a great representation of his work and his place among Southern storytellers.… (more)
 
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DAGray08 | 3 other reviews | Jan 1, 2024 |
I won a copy of The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food in a Goodreads Giveaway. (People really do win!)

I love cooking and have been collecting cookbooks for a number of years. This is not what I call a cookbook though it does have a number recipes in it. What I adore about this book were the stories of North Carolina kitchen tables. Some of them reminded me of my Mamaw's table in Southeast Kentucky. It was the various authors bringing the different flavors that make up North Carolina cuisine and serving them at homes where love ruled the table. Some of the stories will educate you. Some will have you howling with laughter. All will inspire you. These are stories that nourish the soul as well as the stomach.

Your stomach will be nourished, too. Though not a cookbook in the traditional style, there are recipes included. The Annie Collins Pound Cake will delight your taste buds as no box mix for pound cake can. It is divine and not complicated at all to make. I was never one for Butter Beans. I ate my Mamaw's and they were good. My favorites though were Leather Britches. I made the recipe for Better Butter Beans that is in the book and fell in love with Butter Beans. Who knew they could taste so good? If you have never tried cheese grits, I invite you to follow the easy recipe for this southern favorite. If you eat your cornbread on a plate, try it in a cold glass of milk, (a filling supper any night of the week). Sausage biscuits do cure anything that ails you, especially covered in gravy.
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Wulfwyn907 | Jan 30, 2022 |
Many of the characters in Randall Kenan’s If I Had Two Wings are haunted. Whether by the memory of dead lovers, echoes of the slave-holding past, or mysterious hogs, something uncanny follows the people populating this memorable and smoothly written short story collection. Sadly, haunting too is the fact that Keenan died in late September 2020 at the age of 57, not long after the book was published.

Longlisted for the National Book Award, the ten stories in If I Had Two Wings center around the people of Tims Creek, North Carolina, the place where all of Keenan’s fiction is set. Even if they are not in Tims Creek – the first story in the collection takes place in New York City – they are still of that mythical area of eastern North Carolina. Some, like the miracle-working Velmajean Swearington Hoyt, are apparent saints. Others – the wealthy but hog-haunted Percy Terrell – are closer to being sinners. The gay men Two Wings are more preoccupied by the past. In “I Thought I Heard the Shuffle of Angels’ Feet” architect Cicero Cross, returns to Tims Creek after the death of his famous Brazilian lover and runs into Tony, a friend from high school with whom he had, “[o]ne of those dread, hormone-filled, adolescent, penis-driven, oh-so-happy happenstances.” The character 'Randall' must deal with the remnants of the past still inhabiting his newly renovated home in “Resurrection Hardware or, Lard & Promises.”

The famous also make unexpected appearances in the lives of Tims Creek residents: a retired plumber on vacation gets caught up in rocker Billy Idol’s entourage; while a son discovers his mother was once visited by the reclusive Howard Hughes with an unusual proposition.

Another thread that wafts its way through If I Had Two Wings is food. As befits the editor of The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food, one encounters such Southern delicacies as ham, grits, collard greens, butter beans, red-eye gravy, and “The Eternal Glory That Is Ham Hocks” in these stories. Even one of Velmajean Swearington Hoyt’s miracles, in a twist on Jesus’s loaves and fishes, involves an endless barrel of turkey barbecue. In remembering his mother’s blueberry biscuits, a character remembers:

For a boy with no knowledge of sex, this basic sensual experience, firing off every nerve ending with sunshine and delight, taught me everything I would need to know about orgasms long before I had need for the word.

According to his friend and editor, Alane Salierno Mason, an Executive Editor and Vice President at publisher W.W. Norton, on the website LitHub, Randall Kenan had been working on a “Chapel Hill novel” for a number of years [https://lithub.com/the-joy-of-editing-and-knowing-randall-kenan/]. One hopes that the book is sufficiently finished so the book can be published. Readers need to enjoy more of Kenan’s funny, poignant, delicious, and mystical fiction.
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rmharris | 3 other reviews | Jul 8, 2021 |
These stories lacked energy somehow. Maybe it was me, but they just didn't reel me in the way I like with short stories. Oh well, can't win 'em all!
 
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hemlokgang | 3 other reviews | Jun 16, 2021 |

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