When Viking Press finally agreed to publish Ironweed in 1983, the third novel in The Albany Cycle, William Kennedy achieved a measure of critical applause and popular recognition that few contemporary American novelists have enjoyed. Kennedy was born in Albany on January 16, 1928, the son of a deputy sheriff, William Joseph Kennedy, and his wife, Mary McDonald, a secretary. He grew up in an Irish-Catholic, working-class section of the city, and the gritty, realistic experiences of this early life provided him with the details that make his Albany novels such powerful re-creations of a Depression-era America. When he was in the sixth grade, Kennedy was given a toy printing press, and he quickly decided that he wanted to become a journalist. During his high school years at Christian Brothers Academy, he wrote for the school paper, The Sentry, and read the work of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Damon Runyon.
After high school, Kennedy attended Siena College, a small Franciscan college near Albany. During this time, he concentrated on developing his journalistic style, editing the Siena News and functioning as the associate editor of another school publication, Beverwyck. After graduating in 1949, he began his newspaper career as an assistant sports editor and columnist with the Post Star in Glen Falls, New York. Kennedy entered the U.S. Army in 1950. Serving in the Fourth Infantry Division, he was sent to Europe and worked as a sports editor and columnist for Army newspapers. In 1952, he returned to Albany and became a general assignment reporter for the Albany Times-Union. As a journalist, Kennedy rediscovered Albany, and in the four years he spent at the newspaper, he divided his time between reportorial duties and working on his own short fiction. This period of apprenticeship was crucial for Kennedy, for it proved his commitment to a literary career and shaped his versatile command of language.
In 1956, Kennedy moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he became the assistant managing editor of the Puerto Rico World Journal. The small paper suffered from distribution and advertising problems and ceased publication within a year. In 1957, Kennedy married the actress and dancer Ana Daisy Segarra (whose stage name was Dana Sosa) and moved to Miami, where he continued to work as a reporter. He returned to San Juan in 1957, and in...
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