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NC's Randall Kenan, Author Who Depicted Black, Gay Life In Prose, Dies

UNC Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL — Randall Kenan, an author whose stories explored the experience of being Black and gay in the American South, has died. He was 57.

UNC Chapel Hill, where Kenan taught as an English professor, confirmed his death on Saturday. A cause was not immediately available,

Daniel Wallace, his friend and colleague at the university, said Kenan was found dead Friday at his home in Hillsborough, near Chapel Hill.

"He was just an immense talent. His best years were ahead of him," Wallace said, noting that his most recent book, If I Had Two Wings, was published just this month. “And he was a gentleman of the old school” who never failed to bring flowers or chocolate to Wallace's wife when he would visit the couple.

Kenan grew up in North Carolina and attended UNC, receiving his undergraduate degree in 1985.

His 1992 collection of short stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, was set in the fictional town of Tim's Creek, North Carolina. It received critical acclaim and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

He also wrote a young adult biography of author James Baldwin.

Earlier this month, Kenan wrote an open letter reflecting on his experience as a Black student at UNC in the '80s, and the changes prompted by civil unrest, demands for racial justice and the removal of Confederate statues across the South.

“For me — a poor black boy from the swamps of Eastern North Carolina — the Civil War was far from a lost cause, let alone a done war. I had underestimated how unfinished,” he wrote.