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A flyer featuring a copy of Black Fold Could Fly, with a young Randall Kenan's profile.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature will celebrate the publication of Randall Kenan’s posthumous collection BLACK FOLK COULD FLY on Sunday, September 11, 2022 at 4 pm in Hill Hall on campus. The event is free and open to the public. Please join us in celebrating Kenan’s remarkable legacy.

BLACK FOLK COULD FLY, published August 9, is available for purchase through WW Norton and local Chapel Hill bookstores. Copies will also be available at the event. 

Director of the Creative Writing Program, Ross White, writes of Kenan’s powerful work and influence:

Our beloved colleague and friend Randall Kenan was one of the most influential writers in America. Hailing from a small town in Duplin County, Randall came to Carolina to study physics but found his voice as a writer. And find it, he did—Randall’s clear-eyed vision of the South set the tone for a generation of writers. This September, we’ll honor that voice by celebrating the release of Black Folk Could Fly, a collection of his extraordinary essays. Touching on subjects ranging from the women who raised him to James Baldwin to the lowlands of eastern North Carolina, these essays reveal the tenderness and heart behind Randall’s powerful intellect. We hope you will join us as we remember the life and work of a writer whose legacy will shape American letters for decades to come.”

Featured speakers at the event will include Alane Salierno Mason, Vice President and Executive Editor at WW Norton & Company; Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage and faculty at Emory University; and E. Patrick Johnson, author of Sweet Tea and Dean of the School of Communication at Northwestern University.

For more information on the event, please visit:

More on BLACK FOLK COULD FLY from W.W. Norton:

“A personal, social, and intellectual self-portrait of the beloved and enormously influential late Randall Kenan, a master of both fiction and nonfiction.

Virtuosic in his use of literary forms, nurtured and unbounded by his identities as a Black man, a gay man, an intellectual, and a Southerner, Randall Kenan was known for his groundbreaking fiction. Less visible were his extraordinary nonfiction essays, published as introductions to anthologies and in small journals, revealing countless facets of Kenan’s life and work.

Flying under the radar, these writings were his most personal and autobiographical: memories of the three women who raised him—a grandmother, a schoolteacher great-aunt, and the great-aunt’s best friend; recollections of his boyhood fear of snakes and his rapturous discoveries in books; sensual evocations of the land, seasons, and crops—the labor of tobacco picking and hog killing—of the eastern North Carolina lowlands where he grew up; and the food (oh the deliriously delectable Southern foods!) that sustained him. Here too is his intellectual coming of age; his passionate appreciations of kindred spirits as far-flung as Eartha Kitt, Gordon Parks, Ingmar Bergman, and James Baldwin. This powerful collection is a testament to a great mind, a great soul, and a great writer from whom readers will always wish to have more to read.”

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