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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