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William Kennedy


William Kennedy

William Kennedy was born on January 16, 1928 in the predominantly Irish neighborhood of North Albany, New York. His first recorded experiences as a writer occurred during his high school years at the Christian Brothers Academy, where Kennedy wrote for the newspaper. While earning his B. A. at Siena College, Loudonville, New York, Kennedy edited the school's newspaper and served as associate editor of its magazine.

In 1956, Kennedy worked as a columnist and an assistant managing editor of the Puerto Rico World Journal, a San Juan newspaper for an English speaking audience. The paper folded after nine months, but by the end of the next year, Kennedy had already earned jobs as a reporter for the Miami Herald, a freelance journalist for Time-Life publications, and a reporter for Knight Newspapers. He had also married Dana Sosa, a dancer, whom he had met in Puerto Rico.

In 1959, Kennedy became managing editor of the San Juan Star. Two years later he attended Saul Bellow's creative writing workshop at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, and resigned his editorship to devote his full time to writing fiction.

Kennedy went home to Albany in 1963 to care for his father, who was living alone. He accepted part-time work from the Albany Times Union. By 1965, his articles about Albany's slums and racial integration had won state and local awards and were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Between 1968 and 1970, Kennedy was film critic for the Times Union, and in 1969 published his first novel, The Ink Truck. The reading world had been introduced to William Kennedy's Albany and to the first of his fictional individualists, the striker Bailey.

In 1975, after painstaking research and numerous narrative experiments, Kennedy published Legs, a fictional account of the rise and fall of Jack "Legs" Diamond. In 1978, Kennedy's Phelan family made its first appearance in published fiction, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, bringing the reader to the streets of Albany's "nighttown," a world of gamblers, kidnappers and political bosses. In 1983 Kennedy published O Albany!, a collection of essays on Albany's neighborhoods and ethnic history.

In 1983, Kennedy won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship. In 1984, he won the Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Critics Circle Award, and a PEN-Faulkner award, all for Ironweed (which in 1987 was made into a feature film). During that same year Kennedy enjoyed "A City-Wide Celebration of Albany and William Kennedy" hosted by his city in pride for its native son.

After writing the screenplay for The Cotton Club in 1984, Kennedy wrote the nineteenth-century historical novel Quinn's Book, at whose center is a newspaper man turned fiction writer. In 1992, with Very Old Bones, Kennedy returned to the family Phelan. Riding the Yellow Trolley Car: Selected Nonfiction appeared in 1993, and in 1996 Kennedy published The Flaming Corsage, which he is currently adapting for a feature film for Universal Pictures.

It has been said time and time again that Kennedy has done for Albany what Joyce did for Dublin. More than a mere delineator of place and recorder of details, Kennedy has repeatedly succeeded in telling stories of unmistakably original characters who struggle against what, to borrow a few words from Hamlet, are life's slings and arrows.

William Kennedy and his wife, having raised three children, continue to live near Kennedy's inexhaustible Albany. In a book-filled and memorabilia-crammed study, the Albany Cycle continues.

William Kennedy

Books by William Kennedy

by William Kennedy

In the sixth novel of the author's Albany Cycle, the lives of high-born Katrina Taylor and her Irish-American playwright husband are shaped by a 1908 murder-suicide in a Manhattan hotel room.