It is difficult to find words to express just how incredible Professor Randall Kenan was not only as a teacher, but as a man. I had the privilege to take his introductory class to fiction writing at UNC and it was the brightest spot not only in that year, but in my entire experience with the Creative Writing department. While every class session was full of gems, lessons, jokes, and deep discussions about why we tell stories, it was his dedication to getting to know each and every one of his students that made him an unmatched professor. During one of his mandatory office hour sessions he insisted on discussing my career plans and as a sheepish sophomore I admitted I had always wanted to be a writer, but had no idea what that looked like for me. We spent that half hour discussing my writing samples, ghost stories, and Star Trek. It was Professor Kenan that suggested I seriously look into the Writing for the Screen and Stage minor in addition to the Creative Writing Program, reassuring me that my work was good enough, even when I was not so sure.
To make a months-long process short, I returned to his office the next semester with a not so simple request. The screenwriting minor accepted less than twenty students each year, and I needed a recommendation letter. Among the esteemed writing professors I’d had at Chapel Hill, Professor Kenan was the one I trusted the most. I said as much to him, and he simply laughed and said he’d be more than happy to play a small part in the application. Students are not permitted to read their recommendation letters, so I never found out what he wrote on my behalf but I was overjoyed to tell him of my acceptance into the program. Humble as ever, he said I had already done the work, and all he wanted in return was for me to come back and update him on all my writing ventures. Over the next two years, every time I passed him in the hallways of the English building he would smile and ask what I was working on, without fail. It is because of Randall Kenan that I can pursue a professional career as a writer. For that, I can never repay him.
His continued guidance and support to a one-time student proved invaluable. I was preparing to write to him with the news that I had graduated in August and had landed my first script writing internship when I heard of his passing. I can only speak about how gutting the loss of Randall Kenan is as a mentor and professor, and wish to express my deepest and most sincere condolences to his family and friends. The UNC literary community has lost one of its brightest lights. I will never stop being thankful for the brief time I knew him and how he inspired me not only as a writer, but as one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met.
May he rest in peace and his story never forgotten.