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William Kennedy

William Kennedy

Novelist, Playwright, Screenwriter, Journalist

Not bad for an "ink-stained wretch"

Born in 1928 and raised in Albany’s North End, William Kennedy attended Public School 20, Christian Brothers Academy, and Siena College prior to pursuing a career in journalism. He joined the Post Star in Glens Falls as a sports reporter and after being drafted in 1950, worked for an Army newspaper in Europe. Upon his discharge he joined the Albany Times Union as a reporter. In 1956 he accepted a job with a newspaper in Puerto Rico, where he met and
married Dana Sosa, a Broadway actress and dancer.
The Kennedys have three children: Dana, Katherine,
and Brendan, and seven grandchildren.

William Kennedy book signing.jpg


William Kennedy's "Albany Cycle"

By Suzanne Roberson

William Kennedy has written eight novels in what he calls the “Albany Cycle,” all set in his native city of Albany, New York.


Novelist and scholar Thomas Flanagan provided this overview of Kennedy’s cycle in The New York Review of Books in 2002: “William Kennedy’s cycle … began with Legs in 1975. This was followed by Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game in 1978 and Ironweed in 1983. They were spoken of then as a trilogy, partly because they shared a setting and some characters and partly because the third of them, a harrowing narrative of pain and a possible redemption, seemed to bring certain shared themes to resolution.

A book cannot save a city, but it can prove that a city is worth saving.

Stefan Beck

Praise for Albany's Native Son

In Kennedy's Albany, everyone
knows everyone else, even if they do not know themselves.

Thomas Flanagan

[He] could take material from skid row and write about these people as fully human as anyone else.

Saul Bellow

Screenplays and Films


Kennedy’s literary successes opened the door to the world of movie-making. A long-time cinema enthusiast and movie reviewer, he co-scripted “The Cotton Club” (1986) with Francis Ford Coppola.  He also wrote the screenplay for “Ironweed” (1987), directed by Hector Babenco and starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, (both actors were nominated for Academy Awards).  As he told Emma Brockes in The Guardian in 2012, he has been informed as a writer as much by cinema as by reading: “The perception of action:  I’ve been going to movies all my life, since the early 1930s. This had to have an effect.  It got into my blood.”



Children's fiction



  • The Cotton Club.  Co-authored with Francis Ford Coppola. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.

  • Ironweed.  Tri-Star, 1987.


  • Dinner at the Phelans.  Weber Studies.  1993

  • Grand View.  Premiered at Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany, NY, 1996.

    • Kennedy’s first full-length play, “Grand View” (1996), the story of a political war between the state governor and Albany’s political boss, was staged in the spring of 1996 at Capital Repertory Theater in Albany.  One reviewer wrote, “With stiletto-edged humor and a clear insight into the minds and machinations of the politically involved, novelist Kennedy’s new dramatic work opens a window on a murky period in the history of his native city of (Albany) (Schenectady Daily Gazette, 5/10/96)… the personalities and background of the situation are revealed under the cover of satirical comment and innuendo, a hallmark of Kennedy’s ability with language as often revealed in his novels.”

  • In the System.   HumaniTech Short Play Project Premiere, University at Albany, March 2003.

  • The Light of the World  (work in progress).  Staged reading, July 17, 2012, New York State Summer Writers Institute, Skidmore College.

    • A second play in progress, “The Light of the World,” explores an ancestral legacy of the Phelan family of 1934.  The play had a staged reading at the Summer New York State Writers Institute at Skidmore College in July 2012.

Publications and Plays

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