In celebration of Black History Month, we’ll be highlighting a diverse range of books – poetry, novels, memoirs and more – all written by Black American authors. Each of these works moved, engaged, delighted, enraged, and excited Island Free Library readers’ this past year, and we’ll be featuring one title every day through the month of February.
Today’s work is Randall Kenan’s If I Had Two Wings, a beautiful collection of ten stories set in the fictional North Carolina town of Tims Creek. Each story is lit from within, following characters so bright and full of life that it’s hard to imagine they don’t exist outside the page. In my favorite, a retired plumber travels to NYC, where fate and coincidence sweep him up into Billy Idol’s entourage. Stories of love, of miracles, of the haunting events that time cannot erase, Kenan’s last collection was a Finalist for 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and Longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.
Randall Kenan was a writer and professor who grew up in Wallace, North Carolina, a town that would inspire Tims Creek and was the setting for most of his stories. Kenan’s work was often interested in how it was to be a Black gay man in the South, and his work leans on the work of James Baldwin (who came to speak at his school) and other queer Black authors who came before him. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Award, among many others, Kenan was a professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He passed away at the age of 57 in the summer of 2020, shortly after If I Had Two Wings was published. Stay tuned for a new book tomorrow!