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Author Randall Kenan speaks in Appalachian’s Visiting Writers Series Sept. 28

By Ken Keuffel

BOONE, N.C.—The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian State University will continue Sept. 28 with two presentations by Randall Kenan.

His award-winning fiction and nonfiction strives to illuminate black America in ways that challenge perceptions and bring into consideration ideas not previously considered.

View larger imageRandall Kenan will appear Sept. 28 in the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian State University. Photo by Miriam Berkley

Kenan “is a writer and statesman of the first rank,” said Joseph Bathanti, the series’ director and a professor of creative writing in Appalachian’s Department of English.

Kenan is also a professor of English and comparative literature at UNC Chapel Hill. He will present a craft talk on the craft of writing from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. in Table Rock (Room 201B) of the Plemmons Student Union and he will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. in the same location.

As is the case with all series events, Kenan’s presentations will be free and open to the public, and book sales and signing will follow.

His craft talk, titled “Let Me Out of this Coffin: Lessons the Gothic Can Teach Us,” proposes that Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” and other gothic literature can impart numerous craft lessons.

“I think we still have lots to learn from the old forms, like the Gothic,” Kenan said. “I believe these approaches are really a part of our cultural DNA and the more we understand them, the better we will become at using these ideas and techniques in our work.”

Kenan is elusive about his reading.

“I will probably read from a recently published short story,” he said. “But you never know. I often don’t decide what I’ll read until the day of the reading.”

Kenan has a prolific and diverse output from which to choose. Bathanti, who recommended Kenan for the series, is particularly enamored of Kenan’s fiction, having taught “A Visitation of Spirits” (Grove Press, 1989) several times. The novel’s protagonist is Horace Cross, a black teenager whose struggles with his homosexuality play out in rural North Carolina and within a conservative Baptist family.

Kenan “plows whole new territory in his fiction,” Bathanti said. “Undaunted by convention, he has set himself apart as a stylist and provocateur of national mettle. Each time I teach ‘A Visitation of Spirits,’ I’m floored, not only by the book’s refusal to turn away from all that’s ugly about racism, homophobia and profound familial dysfunction, but also by Kenan’s ability to transform that cruel world so beautifully through the lens of human yearning so common to all of us. The book’s poetic language is simply breathtaking.”

As distinguished as Kenan’s fiction is, his nonfiction work has made quite an impression as well. It includes “Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), which was nominated for the Southern Book Award, as well as text for Norman Mauskopf’s book of photographs, “A Time Not Here: The Mississippi Delta” (1997). He has also written introductions for and/or edited “The North Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food” (2016) and several books about James Baldwin (1924-1987), the famed writer and social critic.

“When it comes to race and talking about black American life, I think the American media and Americans in general are rather lazy and ill-informed,” he said. “I like to write about the whole of the thing and to talk about race and race relations in a historical context with an acknowledgement to how history and culture have shaped the entire American scene.”

More about the fall 2017 series

Each semester, the series brings four distinguished and up-and-coming creative writers of varying genres to Appalachian’s campus to read from and discuss their works. The series also features craft talks led by the author on the craft of writing.

After Kenan’s presentations, the schedule for the remaining fall semester series is:

Oct. 5 – Poet Susan Ludvigson
She is the Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing.

  • Craft Talk, 3:30-4:45 p.m., Table Rock (Room 201B), Plemmons Student Union
  • Pre-Reading Reception, 6-7:15 p.m., Price Lake (Room 201A) Plemmons Student Union
  • Reading, 7:30 – 9 p.m., Table Rock (Room 201B), Plemmons Student Union
Nov. 2 – Poet Vivian Shipley
  • Craft Talk, 3:30 – 4:45 p.m., Three Top Mountain (Room 169), Plemmons Student Union
  • Reading, 7:30 – 9 p.m., Three Top Mountain (Room 169), Plemmons Student Union

Parking information

Series organizers recommend attendees park in the College Street Parking Deck near Belk Library and Information Commons. For further information or a map, visit

About the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series

The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series, named in honor of alumna Hughlene Bostian Frank ’68, brings distinguished and up-and-coming creative writers to the Appalachian State University campus throughout the year to present lectures and discuss their works. Frank is a 2013 Appalachian Alumni Association Outstanding Service award recipient, past member of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, current board member of the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., and generous supporter of Appalachian. Learn more at

The Fall 2017 Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is supported by the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English, Office of Multicultural Student Development, University Bookstore, Belk Library and Information Commons, and the Appalachian Journal. Business sponsors are The Gideon Ridge Inn, The Red Onion Restaurant and The New Public House & Hotel. Community sponsors include John and the late Margie Idol, Paul and Judy Tobin, Alice Naylor and Thomas McLaughlin.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.