Randall Kenan Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Randall Garrett Kenan is a gay African American southern writer. Like his works, he defies easy categorization. Born in Brooklyn, Kenan was raised by a great-aunt in the small rural southern community of Chinquapin, North Carolina. He attended integrated schools and graduated from East Duplin High School in Beulahville, North Carolina. At the University of North Carolina, he majored in physics. During his senior year of college, writing fiction, in Kenan’s own words, “just took holt of me.”

After receiving a B.A. from the honors writing program at the University of North Carolina in 1984, Kenan, always well connected, was assisted by Toni Morrison in obtaining an editorial position at Random House. No doubt his inside knowledge of the publishing world served him in good stead: His novel A Visitation of Spirits was published in 1989 by Grove Press. It was judged favorably by major reviewers, including Kirkus Review and Publishers Weekly.

A Visitation of Spirits is set in Tims Creek, North Carolina, a fictional community obviously modeled on Kenan’s own hometown. The story primarily concerns Horace, a young, gay, black man who attempts to reconcile his own homosexuality with his religious beliefs and his family. Events in the book move back and forth between April, 1984, when Horace commits suicide, and December, 1985. Though each of more than a dozen fragmentary sections is precisely dated, this...

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Randall Kenan Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Kenan, Randall. “A Conversation with Randall Kenan.” Interview by V. Hunt. African American Review 29 (Fall, 1995): 411-420. Kenan offers an interesting overview of his career history, educational background, and writing style. He also mentions those authors who have influenced him the most.

Kenan, Randall. Interview by Charles H. Rowell. Callaloo 21 (Winter, 1998): 133-148. Focuses on the influence that Kenan’s extensive traveling has had on his writing. Kenan believes that travel does not afford him an escape from anything. Instead he claims that he always carries his fictional landscape in his head and that his travels have enriched his fiction.

McRuer, Robert. “A Visitation of Difference: Randall Kenan and Black Queer Theory.” Journal of Homosexuality 26, nos. 2/3 (August/September, 1993): 221-232. Focusing on the main character of A Visitation of Spirits, Kenan’s novel considers the question of what cultural work is accomplished when queer desire turns up in such an apparently unlikely and inhospitable place as Tims Creek. McRuer examines how region plays a role in the construction of centers and margins, and argues against always shuffling queer desire “safely” off to the big city.

Nixon, Will. “Better Times for Black Writers?” Publishers Weekly, February 17, 1989, 35-40. Nixon compiles the divergent views of a number of black writers, Kenan included, who discuss the African American writer’s road to publication.