Dalila Ali Rajah
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Acclaimed Author, UNC Professor Randall Kenan Dies at 57


Randall Kenan, one of the most acclaimed Black gay writers in the nation, died last week at his home in Hillsborough, N.C. He was 57.

Kenan won numerous awards during his career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the John Dos Passos Prize, and the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. North Carolina's News & Observer reports Kenan also received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2005, the state’s highest civilian award, and was made a fellow of the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2007. Kenan was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2018.

Much of Kenan's work centered on Black gay life in the South as well as his experiences being raised by three women. His most celebrated work was a 1992 collection of short stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, and named a notable book of the year by The New York Times. Kenan's first book was the 1989 novel A Visitation of Spirits. 

The writer's most recent book was another short story collection, If I Had Two Wings, which was published this month and excerpted by O, the Oprah Magazine. Winfrey's publication tweeted condolences regarding Kenan on Saturday.

Kenan was a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill at the time of his death. He had also spent time teaching at Duke University.

"[Kenan] probably has as significant of an impact of any North Carolina writer of the last 40 or 50 years,” Ed Southern, executive director of the North Carolina Writers' Network, told the News & Observer. “He had a national and international reputation and audience. He remained deeply rooted in North Carolina.”

Kenan's cause of death has not been disclosed.

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