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Randall Kenan, 1963-2020

Randall Kenan, center, with fellow NC Literary Hall of Fame inductees Clyde Edgerton (left) and Jill McCorkle (right) © David Potorti

The board, staff, and members of the North Carolina Writers’ Network join millions around the state, nation, and world to mourn the passing of Randall Kenan. Randall died, apparently of natural causes, late last week at his home in Hillsborough.

We offer condolences to his family, close friends, and colleagues, while saving a few for ourselves. A literary commonplace holds that most authors are “better”—more moral and empathetic—in their books than in their lives. That assumption cracks against Randall Kenan, who, at least in my experience, was every bit as wise and warm and alive in person as in his writing.

NCWN trustee Terry Kennedy, the director of the UNCG MFA Writing Program and editor of The Greensboro Review, said Saturday, “He was such a light. He always made me feel better about the world every time I was around him.”

NCWN communications director Charles Fiore said he feels like we’ve been robbed of many more decades’ worth of books.

Randall Kenan received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2005, and was a 2018 inductee into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. For the Network, he judged the most recent Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize; delivered the keynote address and taught the Fiction Master Class at the 2018 Fall Conference; and led workshops at the 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency, the 2012 Spring Conference, the 2008 Fall Conference, and several other programs.

He was a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his alma mater, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow, the winner of a host of major awards, and the Chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

He had many good reasons and opportunities to turn his back on his home state. Instead he wrapped his arms around it, around us, and lifted us. I despise having to write about him in the past tense.

—Ed Southern
Executive Director
North Carolina Writers’ Network