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Books 1969-2018

The Ink Truck (1969)   Fiction

William Kennedy’s first published novel, The Ink Truck, offered him an opportunity to be lifted “out of the predictable forms I’d been working in, forms that bored me, and that didn’t seem to reflect the surreal dimension of life as I knew it.” The novel relates the story of a newspaper strike in a vividly evoked but unnamed Albany. People magazine called it “Wildly funny, rich and full of lyrical moments.” Time referred to it as “Lean, energetic and grounded in detail and humanities ... a bawdy Celtic romp.”  

The Ink Truck published in Brazil and Spain  Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Legs (1975)   Fiction-Albany Cycle

Kennedy considers writing as a path to discovery and has described Legs as the “first novel where I really learned how to write a novel,” though it took six years to complete and a pile of manuscripts taller than his then six-year-old son Brendan. The first book of what has become Kennedy’s Albany Cycle, it tells the tale of the notorious gangster of the 1920s and ’30s, Jack “Legs” Diamond. In an interview with the writer Edward Schwarzchild, Kennedy reflected: “The question is always the same: what’s new about this subject? When I was writing Legs … the gangster novel and movie were clichés; the genre was a cliché … I believed there was something new to be found in the story of Diamond’s life, and in how the world looked at gangsters and I think I found something.” 


Miami Herald's Jonathan Yardley wrote, “It seems to me that the greatest and most important story of the Twenties, that of Jay Gatsby … reminds of the end of the American dream. Gatsby hovers in the background throughout Kennedy’s remarkable new novel … this too is about the American dream—but about its dark side, the stain of violence and criminality that cannot be expunged from our national life. It is a beautiful, bittersweet book, written with a smile and a tear, recreating a lost era with love and care, bringing home with force the legacy that era presented to us ... In telling us about the American underworld, it tells us all too much about ourselves.”


Author W.T. Lhamon, Jr. reviewed Legs in The New Republic: “One of the pleasures of Legs, Kennedy’s second novel, is that it drove me back to his first, The Ink Truck … Both books have in common Kennedy’s sustained verbal energy. His is a talent that has traditionally clustered on the front porches of country stores, or in taverns, or on the airwaves of special disc jockeys. It is a compulsive talent, made all the more valuable as the recent world threatens daily to leave words behind. Taking that abandonment as a challenge, Kennedy sometimes seems to show how he can, hocus pocus, weave the whole world with words. His is a spell that works. I’d like to sit down on the bar, or on the stoop, listening to this man pump his language … To read him is to know how the tomato plants must feel when the nitrogen hits their roots ... Legs was the idol of America, [and] he also became the idol of Marcus Gorman, Kennedy’s narrator and Diamond’s lawyer, who is a mixture of the best qualities of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby and Jack Burden in All The King’s Men … Gorman is no Clarence Darrow picking his clients for righteous reasons. And Legs Diamond is deadlier than either Gatsby or Willie Stark … Kennedy’s interests are clearly sociological and psychological, but he is a novelist at bottom. He wants the sort of indefinite and suggestive truth germane to fiction, hostile to statistics, and finally dependent on the lode of language mined in the privacy of imagination.”


Peter S. Prescott in Newsweek described Legs as “not a crime novel at all but a real novel about a criminal—there is a difference. In taking Diamond for his subject, Kennedy means to probe our peculiar American habit of reviling gangsters while pressing them for autographs ... Jack is a hero, then, or at least a man so alive he cannot believe, when the bullets finally overcome him, in his own death. It is a peculiarly seductive portrait and Legs is a very skillful story, full of bounce and wit.”


Reviewer Richard Vincent in the Albany Times Union wrote of Legs, “What makes this an outstanding work of fiction are the tools of the writer’s craft that Kennedy brings to it … What sets this novel quite apart from the inbred, parochial, even incestuous quality of those writers so dear to the sensibilities of the Eastern Literary Establishment, is the simple, sure, intuitive sense with which Kennedy puts his words together, or, the final consummate act of the true art of writing. It is here that Kennedy seldom puts a foot wrong, and which raises this book from the documentary to the top level of American creative writing.”


In his review in the Washington Post Book World, novelist L.J. Davis pondered “why Americans who make such good gangster movies, write such awful gangster novels … We can turn cowboys into literature, we can turn businessmen into literature, but until now gangsters—and, interestingly, politicians—have eluded the novelist’s informing eye. I am happy to report that William Kennedy has at last taken steps to set matters to rights … Legs is what a novel is supposed to be: a mirror walking down the road of man, and it deserves our closest and most serious attention.”


Legs was an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club in September 1975.

Legs was published in Denmark, France and Germany.  Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

Billy Phelan's Greatest Game introduces the Phelan family, whose ancestors and progeny appear in five subsequent novels and a play. Billy is a small-time Depression-era gambler, pool hustler, and bookie who, through association, becomes mixed up in the kidnapping of an Albany politician’s son. 


“Billy without a city is Billy without a father,” wrote author Dennis Lehane in his introduction to the 2012 Simon & Schuster edition of Billy in England, “because the city transformed into his father when his own, Francis, ran off and became a vagrant … Martin Daughtery has his own paternal demons … Martin, haunted by his failings as a son and as a father, is given of late to obsessing over the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac … ‘All sons,’ Martin muses, ‘are Isaac, all fathers are Abraham, and … all Isaacs become Abrahams if they work at it long enough’ … This is not a book you read so much as slip into … Let Billy and Martin introduce you to their friends and enemies, to Morrie and Big Daddy and Bump Oliver, Georgie the Syph, Chick Phelan, Footers O’Brien, and Red Tom. And if it all sounds a bit Runyonesque, well he makes an appearance too. You are about to be taken in hand by one of the twentieth century’s great raconteurs and led through a river of lights in a city like all others, but a city like none you’ve encountered before. Enjoy the trip.”


Doris Grumbach wrote in the Saturday Review, “No one writing in America today … has Kennedy’s rich and fertile gift of gab; his pure verbal energy; his love of people,” and in the Wall Street Journal in 2011 Sam Sacks added, “More than 30 years after it first appeared, the book hasn’t lost a jot of its riffing, smart-aleck energy.”


Billy Phelan's Greatest Game was published in Finland, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden.  Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Ironweed (1983)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

Billy Phelan’s father, Francis, a derelict on the run from his own demons and past mistakes, is the principal character of Ironweed, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. In a 1992 interview with Kennedy, former director of the New York State Writers Institute, the late Tom Smith, characterized Francis as “one of the gigantic, memorable, fallen characters in contemporary fiction … Readers all over the world seem to be able to empathize and identify with this character who is a drunk, a renegade, a runner, a killer … and yet, he’s a character of enormous moral complexity.” Saul Bellow wrote of the book: “Francis is also a traditional champion … To kill is his destiny, and he kills American style, with techniques learned in play, throwing a rock like a baseball and … hitting a man with a baseball bat.”


Charles Fanning wrote in The Irish Voice in America: “Finally, comes the least and greatest of the [Albany Cycle’s] protagonists. At age fifty-eight Francis Phelan is an alcoholic vagrant, the murderer of three men with a share of responsibility in several other deaths, and a twenty-year deserter of his wife and children. And yet Kennedy creates him as a plausibly heroic figure holding to an austere set of values … through the course of … forty-eight hours, Francis meets and converses with all of the important ghosts of his past—from his parents, to companions of his youth, to those in whose violent deaths he has been implicated. Is this delirium tremens or is it ‘really’ happening? The quality of the writing makes the question irrelevant. It is simply one more of Kennedy’s successful paradoxes that this least deluded of men has plausible encounters with the dead. Here, Kennedy echoes modern Irish literature, where such encounters are commonplace … Kennedy steps into his narrative to create written effects that call attention to themselves because they are beyond the ken of the novel’s characters, effects attributable directly to the consciousness of a narrative voice above and beyond the action—an intrusive omniscient narrator. There is eloquence in Ironweed, and it blesses characters, situations, events from which it is much harder to extract human dignity and elicit compassion … that is, the lives and deaths of people on the teetering edge of humanity … Kennedy manages to bless these unpromising materials by authorial intrusion, and his methods are lyricism and metaphor … Along with considerable talent, such bold intrusion reveals a high level of confidence about the medium of fiction.”


Fanning continues: “Kennedy charts his course by the lights of his predecessors … He wanted to be surreal in a way Farrell was not, he wanted to be realistic in a way that O’Connor was not, and he wanted to explore different dimensions of Irish-American life. And so we have the Albany novels, which mix hard, gritty realism with a surreal lyricism of great beauty in the depiction of, among other things, an Irish-American underclass of ruthless criminals, gamblers, and homeless bums, the lowest of the low.”


In his exploration of writing, First Paragraphs, Donald Newlove wrote of Ironweed that “Kennedy’s power to bring light into dark places and to write tragic dialogue ringing with a Shakespearean blackness strikes me as the happiest art … I, for one, enter the heaven of a writer absolutely on top of his material from the first sound of his voice. His load is light, every page.  Pure light. And surely he changes our lives, enriches our understanding of the madness of one drunk in a fellowship of rock-bottom boozers during the Great Depression. It’s not just historical understanding he gives us. We become Francis Phelan, a deep-witted walking grave, lighted up with family ghosts like fireflies in twilight.”


Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Robert Towers called Ironweed “a kind of fantasia on the strangeness of human destiny, on the mysterious ways in which a life can be transformed and sometimes redeemed. Unlike many modern novelists who are distant from their characters, Kennedy’s fiction exudes compassion … a work of unusual interest, original in its conception, full of energy and color, a splendid addition to the Albany cycle.”


Ironweed is included on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels in English in the 20th century.

Ironweed was published in Cuba, Denmark, France, Iceland, Israel, Korea, Russia and Taiwan.  Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

O Albany! (1983)   Nonfiction

Improbable City of Political Wizards, Fearless Ethnics, Spectacular Aristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and Underrated Scoundrels (1983)

In the November 2012 Columbia Journalism Review, Stefan Beck reviewed O Albany!, Kennedy’s impressionistic history of his city, 29 years after the book was published. Beck called the work “a detailed portrait of America in microcosm, and proof that a penetrating eye can turn a one-horse town into a metropolis deserving of its place in posterity … Nothing in Kennedy’s Albany is sentimentalized, trivialized, romanticized, or demonized. He confers dignity on vagrants and prostitutes without turning them into glowing unfortunates. He can mull the causes and effects of political corruption without assuming the mantle of a thundering reformer. He was, after all, a reporter before he was a novelist, and the essays in O Albany! are products of a fact-finding mission that transformed into a newspaper position and in turn into a life’s work.”

“It is easy enough,” continued Beck, “for a journalist to loathe corruption, even corruption that keeps the peace or keeps the people happy. It is harder for a novelist. The journalist Kennedy [wrote] stories that complicated [Albany Mayor Erastus Corning’s] life. The novelist Kennedy was delighted when the Mayor approached him to collaborate on a book in which Kennedy would be able to say whatever he liked, as would Corning. The book never came to fruition, but an essay, ‘Erastus: The Million Dollar Smile,’ did. The result is an excellent example of Kennedy’s candid, psychologically astute, and above all sympathetic portraiture. The essay gets to the heart of Kennedy’s essentially novelistic journalism. Whether because he retains some vestigial sense of Original Sin, or simply because he grasps human folly, he is capable of regarding any man as an equal, a potential friend, and certainly a fascinating subject for study—no matter how wicked.”


Beck adds: “If O Albany! is a guide to a mostly vanished place, it is also a blueprint for how other fallen, forgotten cities might be reinvigorated by the right kind of attention … A book cannot save a city, but it can prove that a city is worth saving.”

Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Quinn's Book (1988)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

Kennedy continued to expand his open-ended Albany Cycle. While the first three novels in the cycle unfold in a Depression-era setting, the next three explore various periods in the city’s history. Thomas Flanagan wrote in the New York Review of Books that Quinn’s Book “reaches out from Albany to an impressionistic nineteenth-century America, a land of slavery and warfare and haunted rivers” and follows the picaresque adventures of a Phelan ancestor, Daniel Quinn. The Boston Globe called the novel a “book of wonders and sweetness, magic and horrors, it immerses itself in the marvelous … Touching and vivid and comic.”


Charles Fanning described Quinn’s Book as “a tour de force of historical fiction driven by a visionary imagination … Quinn’s Book rings freshly because it is the book of a gifted writer who is in love with words—their variousness, power, and capacity to comfort, dazzle, and terrify. Discovering this love turns out to be the substance of Daniel Quinn’s progress to epiphany as well … Quinn learns to oppose suffering and injustice by observing and chronicling them … Quinn’s Book is a writer’s book, from the thrill of wonder and control that the young boy feels in writing his first sentence, to a journalistic career that culminates in fame as a war correspondent, to the ultimate breakthrough into the heady, open air of fiction … Through the transforming power of his imagination, the novelist turns the typical nineteenth-century, famine-generation plot line into a quest for meaning through art, one that on some level surely stands for his own career. At the same time, the sheer joy in using words that Quinn discovers is here embodied in Kennedy’s style, in the newly minted nineteenth-century cadences and flourishes that somehow manage to express an authentic awakening to the power of love and art.”

Quinn's Book was published in England, France, Germany and Israel.  
Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Very Old Bones (1992)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

In the early spring of 1953, and with blinding illumination on through the fall of 1954, Peter Phelan came to perceive this:  that individuals, families, or societies that willfully suppress their history will face a season of reckoning, one certain to arrive obliquely, in a dark place, and at a hostile hour, with consequences for the innocent as well as for the conspirators.  –Very Old Bones


“The Phelans can claim a place beside O’Neill’s Tyrones and Steinbeck’s Joads as one of the premier families of American literature who endure and, one hopes, prevail. If you think great books are no longer being written, reading William Kennedy will change your mind.” (Library Journal, March 1, 1992)


In his review of Very Old Bones in The Recorder in 1992, the critic Noel O’Hara wrote, “We realize it is the commerce of Kennedy’s novels with the past and future that makes the Phelans profoundly different from the Karamazovs and the Compsons. There is no longing for a lost past of God-given opportunities, as there is with Faulkner, no sense of historic decadence whose state is the present of the Karamazovs, through whom Dostoyevsky probes the destiny of man in the light of his own Christianity … The meaning this novel distills from the whole cycle is that the past is darkness and the future is the possibility of light.


“Kennedy’s sweat and blood are evident in the perfected and purposeful difference of each novel from the others, even though all are, by and large, grounded in the same society and place. The straight 19th-century narrative style of Quinn’s Book was a surprise after the addictive free flow in space and time of Ironweed. In Very Old Bones, Kennedy has not only laid the old transatlantic ghosts, but we view Phelans in places other than Albany for much of the time. … No character ever really dies in a Kennedy novel … For him, time is an expanding pool and not a straight line.”


Maureen Howard wrote in the New York Times Book Review, “What we have in Very Old Bones … is a masterly dig into the past of his own career by a writer who often seduces with the staged reality of his Albany, offering a romantic tour through its political scandals, Broadway bars and downtown flophouses, then leading us uphill to the really tough scenes behind the lace curtain sanctimony of Colonie Street. The Phelans, Daughertys, Quinns reappear in Mr. Kennedy’s novels at his direction, a hardy troupe that never grows stale as the resident company … Beneath the mete and just end of this closely worked novel lie bitter bones of estrangement, of love hidden or misplaced, lives wasted by jealousy and fear … this odd literary novel, Very Old Bones, is a grand leap, the very best of William Kennedy’s work so far.”


Tom Adair wrote in his review in Scotland on Sunday that “Kennedy’s Albany-cycle [novels] … jostle Updike’s Rabbit Quartet for a claim on the pulse of modern America. Kennedy’s saga is generational, raiding the corners of a century that began in the 1850s, buck-riding the turbulence and the twitches of a stormy coming of age, if not coming to terms within the mesh of the family’s branches and stunted growth … There is an operatic grandiloquence in the emotions such scenes portray, a dandy flourish that matches the brio of Kennedy’s prose … This book is … a wonderful windfall for those who breathe their fiction neat. It proves that America is restless with self-discovery … gifting us with writers of genius. I have no doubt that this book is a classic; Kennedy’s best.”


Author Alan Cheuse wrote, “Albany, N.Y., may not yet have taken its rightful place east of Winesburg, Ohio, and north of Yoknapatawpha County, Miss., on the great literary map that serious American readers keep in their minds. But it’s not for lack of trying on the part of novelist William Kennedy. He has produced several beautifully crafted and often quite moving novels in his so-called Albany cycle, the best known of these being Ironweed. Well, he’s still caught in that cycle, caught in the struggle and excitement and discoveries in the creation of it. With … Very Old Bones … the reader feels a certain cause for wonder as well.”


Gail Caldwell wrote in the Boston Sunday Globe, “Posing as Orson’s memoir, Very Old Bones is an immensely gratifying novel, one that touches on the wildest and saddest parts of the Phelan clan. With its dialogue as chillingly perceptive as its family insights, the novel has about it a crisp, authoritative ease—as though the truth were just hiding there on the outskirts of Albany, waiting to be brought home … Kennedy has created such a mammothly persuasive group of people in this novel that it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s real and who isn’t … such is the power of seamless fiction … When Orson descends into the Phelans’ cellar, sent there by Molly on a devastating task, you can all but smell the musk and memories surrounding him. William Kennedy the realist may have sketched that scene, but it took a master of the human heart to deliver it.”

Very Old Bones was published in Brazil, Denmark, France and Portugal.  
Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Riding the Yellow Trolley Car (1993)   Nonfiction

Riding the Yellow Trolley Car is a collection of essays, interviews (with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Styron, Robert Penn Warren, Louis Armstrong and others), memoirs, reviews, reportage, liner notes for a Sinatra album, and memoirs on the making of two films, “The Cotton Club,” and “Ironweed.”  Library Journal said of it: “a great pleasure to read, no matter what the subject. Another winner from Kennedy: highly recommended.” And Publishers Weekly wrote, “This engaging miscellany of some 80 articles, interviews, and reviews should delight fans of noted novelist Kennedy. From newspaper pieces printed in his hometown of Albany, N.Y., in the 1950s to more polished essays in national magazines, these selections suggest how Kennedy’s literary voraciousness contributed to the growth of his distinctive, sinuous style.”


In the Dallas Morning News, Norman Oder wrote, “Mr. Kennedy began as a journalist in Albany, and early examples of his craft show him straining toward originality. Indeed, this book suggests how a myriad of influences—journalism, literature, Albany and Latin America—helped fuse his literary imagination … The writer who emerges here sounds not merely interesting but delightfully genuine.”


Author Robert Friedman reviewed Riding the Yellow Trolley Car, describing the book as a “rich cornucopia of novelist William Kennedy’s nonfiction, and a joyride most of the way … The collection displays Kennedy’s love affair with literature and with subject matter high and low. It is a look into the wellspring of his literary life, tracing tastes and a stately style that evolved fully in Kennedy’s Albany novels.”

 Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Charlie Malarkey and the Belly Button Machine (1986)

Charlie Malarkey and the Singing Moose (1993)   Children's Books

Kennedy has co-authored two children’s books with his son, Brendan Kennedy: Charlie Malarkey and the Belly Button Machine (1986) and Charlie Malarkey and the Singing Moose (1993). The first book began as an ongoing, extemporaneous bedtime story that William Kennedy told his four-year-old son in 1974. Kennedy decided the story was getting good enough to put down on paper, and brought Brendan into the creation of the rest of the tale. Kennedy credits Brendan with major contributions to the plot and dialogue. When finished it made the rounds of publishing houses and was rejected many times, like Kennedy’s most famous novel, Ironweed. One editor feared it was too Freudian, and others felt that missing body parts would frighten children. But Kennedy persisted, knowing that children enjoyed it enormously, and addictively. The book was published by Atlantic Monthly Press when editor Joyce Johnson read and loved it.


Kirkus Reviews wrote of Charlie Malarkey and the Belly Button Machine, “Told with wry, satirical humor and plenty of genuinely funny detail … not to mention the always fascinating (and slightly unmentionable) subject of navels, this should find a wide and eager audience.”

Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

The Flaming Corsage (1996)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

The eminent critic Harold Bloom wrote, “The Flaming Corsage transforms the [Albany Cycle] into what Ruskin praised as ‘stage fire’ in Dickens. At once prose-poem, historical novel, and theatrical melodrama, Kennedy’s new book demonstrates an exuberance beyond his previous work.”


Kirkus Review offered this about The Flaming Corsage: “This latest installment in Kennedy’s ambitious Albany Cycle returns to, and deepens, many of the themes central to the series: the wayward nature of the human heart, the manner in which grief, regret, and enduring need shape and often remake family life, the way in which art, at its best, can clarify and transform life’s losses and pain … At its center is yet another vibrant, tragic couple: Edward Daugherty, a brilliant playwright, and his equally headstrong, melancholy wife, Katrina. Surrounding them is a cast of other distinct and startling figures: Francis Phelan, Katrina’s lover and a hero of Albany’s working-class Irish community; the talented, self-destructive journalist Thomas Maginn; and Melissa Spencer, a gifted, conscienceless actress who becomes Daugherty’s lover and sets in motion a murder/suicide that comes close to destroying Daugherty.


“The long, unremitting effort of Albany’s Irish population to seize power from the governing elite is never far from the action: Daugherty, given a start in life by a wealthy benefactor, uses his plays to celebrate the resiliency of the Irish and lampoon the Dutch and English who rule the town. That theme, however, never predominates—the long struggle of Edward and Katrina to cope with a series of deaths and betrayals gives the novel its shape and narrative drive. Filled with precise details of Albany’s vanished life, narrated in a prose both salty and exact, catching the vigorous cadence of spoken English, this is the most impressive entry in the Albany Cycle since Ironweed.”

The Flaming Corsage was published in France, Spain and Sweden.  
Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Roscoe (2002)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

In a timely review on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, author and scholar Brock Clarke interviewed then Vice President Joseph Biden about the American political novel and paraphrased Biden as wanting “a novel featuring a man of experience, a man of appetites, a ridiculous man who somehow in not recognizing he was a ridiculous man, while at the same time somehow not taking himself too seriously, was somehow better or at any rate more interesting than all those other politicians who were more ridiculous for acting as though they were not.” “It sounds like you want a novel about Joe Biden,” Clarke said to Biden, who laughed, grew thoughtful and then replied, “Or Roscoe Conway, the titular hero of William Kennedy’s great 2002 novel, Roscoe.” Clarke concluded: “Vice President Biden is right … Roscoe is the new political novel you’ve been waiting for.”


Of Roscoe, Donna Seaman wrote in her Booklist review, “In his seventh Albany novel … Kennedy continues to write vigorous, vivid, and exalted prose shaped by his fascination with the smoky and mysterious dimensions of life, the crooked underworld and the ghostly otherworld, and set to the haunting music of his wryly mythic and Shakespearean romanticism … Sexy and magical, muscular and comic, gritty and contemplative, Kennedy’s tale of a mendacious yet noble errant knight who never leaves home and yet ends up homeless is sublime.”


Thomas Mallon, in his review in The Atlantic, called the book “the best novel of city-hall politics to appear in ages.” 


Kennedy spoke about politics in literature in a 2006 interview with writer Edward Schwarzchild. “The struggle is always the revelation of the individual spirit that you’re creating. That’s the mystery that prevails throughout the quest. And if there is a political theme it should be woven into the fabric of that spirit. Roscoe is all about politicians but it’s not an argument. It is, I hope, a personification of political power in an ambiguously moral rascal. There are a lot of those out there, and Roscoe illuminates one of them.”


Tom Deignan wrote in America, “With poetry and pizzazz, Kennedy transcends history as deftly as he captures it. In doing so he has created that rare thing:  an enlightening, original book on politics … Kennedy is at the top of his game with Roscoe.” 


In one of his last letters to Kennedy, Saul Bellow called Roscoe his “most successful novel yet,” and expressed gratitude to him for uniting “your singular and wonderful view of things with the idea of a large fiction.”


Roscoe was chosen by the editors of Booklist as the best novel of 2002, and the editors of the New York Times Book Review chose it as one of the top three novels of 2002.

Roscoe has been published in Cuba and England.  Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes (2011)   Fiction - Albany Cycle

The eminent writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “With the zest and imaginative energy that has characterized William Kennedy’s remarkable works of fiction from the very start of his career, the ambitious Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes takes the reader on a wild ride from Albany, New York to Cuba in the time of Revolution, and from Cuba to Albany in the time of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It’s a passionate love story and an epic journey in miniature, a whirligig of 20th-century history dramatized in the life of the Albany journalist Daniel Quinn whose life-span so eloquently parallels that of his creator Bill Kennedy.”


Susan Salter-Reynolds wrote in The Daily Beast, “This great crescendo of a novel is worth the ten-year wait. Kennedy has woven all his visions, all his orphans and widows, all his demons, all his politics, lust and bloodlust, fears and hopes for America and mankind, hero worship, father figures, disappointments and action figures into it … The power of Kennedy’s prose lies in his contrapuntal rhythm—dizzying dialogue followed by understatement so lean it feels like sarcasm, followed by speed, exaggeration, magic, Santeria. He writes a wild death-dance to which every mythical figure is invited—they parade across the pages. The fast and slow creates a tension, points of heat in the novel (love, sorrow, torture) and valleys full of cold air (politics, growing old in Albany, the impossible elusiveness of the ‘normal’ American life) …


“Novelist of Albany, voice of the American poor, voice of the reckless and regretful, a writer who has lived through those hopeless decades and come out dancing to the human drumbeat, not happy, not even certain, but with his ear to the ground. What does he hear? ‘The glass-jawed, the fallen away, the ignorant, the passive, the skeptics, the cocksure-never-sure … the color-coded, the suicidal rebels and the enraged have-nots, the martyrs and the clerics brainwashed by the mystery, the saints like King who always lose so grandly.’”


Author and filmmaker John Sayles paid homage to the craft of William Kennedy in his New York Times Book Review of Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes: “This is not a book a young man would or could write. There is the sense here of somebody who has seen and considered much, without letting his inner fire cool.”

Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes was published in England.  
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Bootlegger of the Soul (2018)   Nonfiction 

The Literary Legacy of William Kennedy, Edited by Suzanne Lance and Paul Grondahl


A celebration of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who put Albany on the world’s literary map.

The award-winning novelist William Kennedy is perhaps best known for his Albany Cycle, a series of novels that put Albany on the world's literary map alongside James Joyce's Dublin, Gabriel García Márquez's Macondo, and William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Bootlegger of the Soul offers a fresh and authoritative overview of Kennedy's long literary career and his astonishing trajectory from journalist to struggling novelist to Pulitzer Prize winner. Included here are reviews, interviews, and scholarly essays on Kennedy's work, as well as essays, speeches, a play, and a short story by the author himself, together with more than fifty historical and personal photographs. Lively, readable, and brimming with the infectious wit and lyrical prose that animates Kennedy's novels, Bootlegger of the Soul is a celebration of a writer still working hard at his craft at age ninety.

Suzanne Lance is Associate Director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Paul Grondahl is Director of the New York State Writers Institute and is the author of several books, including Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma and I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt.

"Bootlegger of the Soul captures Kennedy's impact as a multitalented author through essays, interviews, and reviews, and serves as a biography, memoir, anthology, and tribute in one. " — Hudson River Valley Review

"There are no dead sentences in [Kennedy's] work. His language is vigorous, full of energy … He's just a pure writer. " — Saul Bellow

"William Kennedy's cycle of Albany novels may be one of the most exuberant literary feats of the past half-century. " — Colum McCann

"Kennedy's art is an eccentric triumph, a quirky, risk-taking imagination at play upon the solid paving stones, the breweries, the politicos, and pool sharks of an all-too-actual city. " — Thomas Flanagan  Return to William Kennedy's Home Page 

The Ink Truck
Billy Phelan
Very Old Bones
O Albany
Quinn's Book
The Flaming Corsage
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