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John Keene, Author of Annotations and Counternarrative, is the 2020 Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence at CalArts

John Keene, Author of Annotations and Counternarrative, is the 2020 Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence at CalArts
John Keene, Credit: Nina Subin. Click here for high resolution photo.

John Keene, acclaimed novelist, poet essayist, and translator, has been selected to be the 2020 Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). In 2018, Keene was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant,” for his work “exploring the impact of historical narratives on contemporary lives and re-imagining the history of the Americas from the perspective of suppressed voices.” Watch the MacArthur Foundation’s video profile of Keene.

John Keen will conduct individual sessions with CalArts students in the MFA Creative Writing Program and present public readings, which will be held at CalArts on January 23rd at 7 pm and at REDCAT in Downtown Los Angeles on January 24, at 8:30 pm.

Publisher’s Weekly called Keene’s acclaimed first book, Annotations, “an experimental work that pinpoints a new direction for literary fiction in the 21st century.”  Annotations is a semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the coming of age of a black, queer, middle-class child in the 1970s and 1980s in St. Louis. Simultaneously, it is a collection of essays about the ideological, philosophical, and political contexts of Keene’s struggle to achieve agency.  

Counternarratives, Keene’s collection of short stories and novellas, draws upon memoirs, newspaper accounts, detective stories, and interrogation transcripts to create new perspectives on the past and present. The Kenyon Review praised its ability to “to disrupt and disorient our settled notions about the agency of the enslaved and exploited, and about the intelligibility of history itself.” Counternarratives received an American Book Award and a Lannan Literary Award. 

Keene’s other published work includes GRIND, an art-text collaboration with photographer Nicholas Muellner; and the poetry chapbook, Playland.  He is also the 2005 recipient of a Whiting Award in Fiction and Poetry.

Tisa Bryant, Director of the MFA in Creative Writing at CalArts, says the selection of Keene as the 2020 Katie Jacobson Writer in Residence “resonates strongly with the kinds of writing and research our students are most engaged with now.  As a translator (of Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst’s notorious erotic novel, Letters from a Seducer), as well as collaborator with visual artists, and as a poet, John Keene exemplifies the interdisciplinarity emblematic only of the current literary field, and also the genre fluidity prescient of its future.  His creative practice is emblematic of our Program’s vision and ethos, and we’re thrilled to have him visit our campus.” 

Keene is a longtime member of the Dark Room Writers Collective, a community of black writers founded in Boston in 1987, and a graduate fellow of Cave Canem, an organization established in 1997 and headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, committed to supporting Black poetry from across the African Diaspora.

He is an Associate Professor of English and African American and African Studies and a core faculty member in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Rutgers University-Newark.


A vital feature of the CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program, the Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence Program is designed to bring a prestigious writer to campus for a public reading, a classroom visit, and to meet with students in one-to-one sessions. The Writer-in-Residence Program offers a unique opportunity for students to gain hitherto unprecedented access to leaders in their field, to discuss professional working methods, and to receive feedback on their own work.

Established in 2013, the Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence Program was named in memory of Creative Writing Program MFA student Katie Jacobson, and was created by the generous support of her parents Leslie Jacobson and Jeanine Caltagirone. The program launched with the residency of short fiction writer and translator Lydia Davis.  In 2019, Kevin Young, author of Bunk and Poetry Editor for The New Yorker, was writer-in-residence. Click here to learn more about the residency program.


John Keene, CalArts’ 2020 Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence, will read from his work at CalArts and REDCAT

At California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

Thursday, January 23 at 7pm

Bijou Theater on the CalArts campus, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355-2340



Friday, January 24 at 8:30 pm

631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

General: $12, Members: $9
Reserve tickets at or call 213 237-2800