Prof. John Keene Wins Lannan Award

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RU-N Professor John Keene has won the prestigious 2016 Lannan Literary Award for fiction.

Keene, who teaches in RU-N’s English department and MFA Creative Writing Program, and is Chair of the African American and African Studies department, received the honor for his critically acclaimed book Counternarratives (New Directions).

He is the second RU-N professor to win the award in as many years. MFA Professor A. Van Jordan won last year for poetry.

Bestowed by the Lannan Foundation since 1989, the Lannan Literary Award recognizes writers who have made significant contributions to English-language literature. 

Keene joins a select 2016 class that includes Kevin Barry (fiction), Tyehimba Jess (poetry), Craig Santos (poetry), Don Mee Choi (poetry), Somaz Sharif (poetry) and Ocean Vuong (poetry).

Keene is the author of the novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995); the poetry collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), a collaboration with artist Christopher Stackhouse; the art book GRIND (ITI Press, 2016), an art-text collaboration with photographer Nicholas Muellner; and the poetry chapbook Playland (Seven Kitchens Press, 2016).

Keene is also a translator of Brazilian authors, as well as texts from Spanish and French. His introduction to the first English translation of Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst's novel The Obscene Madame D appeared in Fall 2012 (Nightboat Books/A Bolha Editora), and his translation from the Portuguese of Hilst's novel Letters From a Seducer  (Nightboat Books/A Bolha Editora) was published in February 2014. His essay "Translating Brazil's Marquise de Sade" will appear in a forthcoming volume of essays on Hilst edited by Adam Morris, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Counternarratives is a groundbreaking work containing 13 novellas and short stories that center mainly on the African diaspora following the introduction of the slave trade to the Americas and on into modernity. The stories sweep across time and space, exhibiting Keene’s acute sense of history (and literature and the arts), while burrowing deep into counterfactual storytelling—as the title suggests—to reveal the imaginative possibilities inherent in fiction.

The work already received a 2016 American Book Award and was one of two Finalists for the 2016 William Saroyan International Prize for Fiction Writing.

It also has garnered rave reviews from media outlets such as Harper’s magazine, The Nation, the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Publishers Weekly, The Paris Review and Book Forum.

Board of Governors Professor Jayne Anne Phillips, acclaimed novelist and Director of RU-N’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, lauded Keene’s latest effort.

Counternarratives, revolutionary in its historical scope, magically astute language and characterizations that span centuries, is an exhilarating, completely original achievement,” says Phillips.


Visit here to learn more about the Lannan Literary Award and Fellowship and to see current and past winners.