Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reginald McKnight to Read at Piedmont!

Reginald McKnight
(source: Sandra Y. Govan,

Within the six-year span between 1985 and 1991, Reginald McKnight achieved distinction and earned praise as a crafter of excellent fiction, particularly in the short story. In 1985 he won a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which permitted him a year in Africa; there he gathered material that became strands in the semiautobiographical novel I Get on the Bus. Also in 1985, McKnight won the Bernice M. Slote Award for Fiction from the University of Nebraska for “Uncle Moustapha's Eclipse.” In 1988 he received the Drue Heinz Literature Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press for stories collected in Moustapha's Eclipse; this collection also earned him an Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award from PEN American Center in 1989. He was a Bread Loaf Fellow in 1988; in 1989, he was awarded the Kenyon Review New Fiction Prize and the o. Henry Award for “The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas.” McKnight received a National Endowment for the Arts Grant for Literature in 1991.

Reviewers of McKnight's short fiction tend to focus first on his ability to create evocative, richly textured, and often humorous or comic narrative voices. “The Homunculus: A Novel in One Chapter,” collected in The Kind of Light that Shines in Texas, was also anthologized in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Sixth Annual Collection for 1992. McKnight's ability to manipulate a story's structural frame so that it functions as an active evocative dramatic element rather than a mere vehicle has also been noted, as has his use of the swiftly paced narrative and his ear for striking dialogue. An additional aural technique resonating in his fiction is his poetic prose, his skillful deployment of sound to ensnare a reader's immediate attention. It is through an unexpected blending of rhythm and syntax that his prose yields the remarkable or compelling image. Carolyn Megan, in a 1994 essay for the Kenyon Review titled “New Perceptions on Rhythm in Reginald McKnight's Fiction,” argues that McKnight's writing relies upon a rhythmic sense, upon meter, sound, and rhythm as avenues into fiction.

If Megan's observations apply to McKnight's short stories, they are more applicable when the text examined is McKnight's novel I Get on the Bus, a surrealistic tale about black identity and its convoluted forms in the post-civil rights era. Readers sensitive to imagery are seduced by the effects of the staccato rhythms permeating the novel's highly intense opening passage. The novel reflects the peculiar experiences of a young African American male in Africa. Evan Norris, though serving in the Peace Corps in Senegal, must contend with an inner rootlessness and cultural ambivalence that echoes W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of the divided self, the double consciousness haunting many African Americans.

McKnight's skillful treatment of various narrative techniques, riffing off autobiographical elements, and his creation of the cultural mulatto male protagonist show him to be an ultramodern African American novelist. Thematically, however, through the novel's emphasis on identity, ambiguity, responsibility, deracination, and the quest for self, McKnight shows an allegiance to James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1913) and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952).

Reginald McKnight’s Books:
He Sleeps
Moustapha's Eclipse
I Get on the Bus
The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas
White Boys
African American Wisdom

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