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What Writers Read: Randall Kenan Interview

Friday from the Archives: “Smitten by Victoriana: Randall Kenan’s Down East Boyhood with Books, Storytelling, and the Power of Language”, an interview by Sheryl Cornett from NCLR Issue 15 (2006)

NCLR has recently started a “What We’re Reading Wednesday” series on our social media accounts, largely because we are all voracious readers, which is no surprise as writers. Sheryl Cornett starts her 2006 interview piece with “When Randall Kenan says to young people in his creative writing workshops, “read; read more than you write,” he speaks from experience.” Writers read.

Cornett highlights several authors and genres Kenan read as a child: Dickens and Melville, Alice Walker and James Baldwin, comic books, Dracula, Stephen King, the sci-fi Big Three of Clark, Asimov, and Herbert are all referenced in the interview as childhood reading favorites. Once he got to college, his professors such as Bland Simpson and Max Steele expanded his book knowledge. “Again, laughing, he remembers transferring his obsessions not only to Black American writers but also to African, Asian, Jewish, and other writers and to all sorts of writing. In the refiner’s fire of his university education, Randall Kenan grew from the boyhood and teen passion for certain books and stories into the mature, diverse, literary reading life of one who would soon be an award-winning North Carolina writer.”

“It may be that Kenan’s early and ongoing literary success can be attributed, in part, to his childhood
experiences with books, stories, and language. His reading is perhaps largely responsible for his creative mind being mature beyond his years when he set himself the task of mastering the fiction writing process.” Cornett posits. We encourage more writing about Kenan and his sadly cut short body of work for our 2025 “LGBTQ+ NC Literature” feature section.

Read the whole article: order the 2006 issue for your collection.