Writer John Keene | 2018 MacArthur Fellow

I think representation is absolutely crucial,
because if people don’t see themselves represented in the world, then they may not see themselves as part of that world. My name is John Keene. I’m a Writer. My stories range in subject matter, but they often do focus on the voices of people who have not been represented extensively in history. People of color, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Latinx people, mixed race people, and LGBTQ people. One of the things that I hope to do with my work is to give those voices a space in fiction so that they can reach the wider world. Counternarratives is a collection of stories and novellas that run from the early 1600s all the way up through today. Most of them are set in various parts of the United States. The stories individually and collectively
bring to light experiences that tend not to be either told or told in conjunction with
each other. So in a sense, it is almost a kind of collective novel. One of the things that really was important to me when I was writing Counternarratives was to try to write stories that were not
simply about characters, not simply about scenarios, not simply about plots, but that
also connected with larger ideas. To me, part of what fiction involves, part
of what literature involves is a kind of translation. Sometimes from the individual to the collective, sometimes from the collective to the individual, sometimes from the individual to the individual, and so on. When I was writing Annotations, I was
actually working on more conventional novels. And I realized I had a very unique work, and so by the time I was done I realized that what I had produced was something along the lines of annotations to a life, but I didn’t want to it to be a standard memoir. How could I capture the flow of memory? Something that was truer to memory than conventional narrative made possible? I would say about annotation though, is that it is an exploration of a psyche, of a self, but the word “I” does not appear until the very end of the book. I would hope that anything you know, that challenges many of the stereotypes that we have about others and that limits our ability to see
people’s humanity is crucial. We need work like that, and so I feel that
I’m making a contribution towards that end.

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