William Kennedy

William Kennedy

Department of English


Science Library (LE) 320

BA, Siena

William Kennedy

For some 40 years, William Kennedy has crafted history and memory into a body of literature that is as remarkable for its variety as it is for erecting an Albany of the imagination. "What James Joyce did for Dublin and Saul Bellow did for Chicago, William has done for Albany, New York. . . . His cycle of Albany novels is one of the great resurrections of place in our literature," asserted James Atlas in Vogue. In Kennedy's highly regarded "Albany Cycle," outcasts and machine politicians, lowlifes and swells populate an imagined Albany as real as any city of bricks. Thanks to Kennedy, Albany occupies a privileged place on America's mythic map as a capital of the national memory, and a metropolis of everyday struggles.

Born in 1928 in Albany's North End, Kennedy attended Public School 20, the Christian Brother's Academy, and Siena College prior to pursuing a career in journalism. He joined the Post Star, in Glens Falls as a sports reporter and, after being drafted in 1950, worked for an army newspaper in Europe. Upon his discharge he joined the Albany Times-Union. In 1956 he accepted a job with a newspaper in Puerto Rico, where he met and would soon marry Daisy (Dana) Sosa, an actress and dancer. (The Kennedy's have three children--Dana, Katherine and Brendan.) Kennedy became managing editor of the fledgling San Juan Star in 1959, only to quit two years later to pursue writing fiction full-time.

In San Juan, Kennedy took a course with novelist Saul Bellow, who said of Kennedy's early work, "He could take material from skid row and write about these people as [if they were as] fully human as anyone else. The people he wrote about didn't know they had become pariahs. He wrote about them from the inside. . . I was moved by the characters, by their naive but human frailties."

Kennedy taught creative writing and journalism as an instructor from 1974 to 1982 at the University at Albany, where he is now a professor in the English Department. He taught writing at Cornell University in 1982-83. In 1983, Kennedy was awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Part of that award went to the institution of Kennedy’s choice, the University at Albany, State University of New York, using fifteen thousand dollars for five years (each), to create a writers institute at Albany. The University made a commitment to match those funds, thus helping the Writers Institute at Albany become a reality. The following year, Governor Mario M. Cuomo signed into law the legislation creating the New York State Writers Institute, giving it goals and responsibilities to conduct a broad range of cultural and educational literary activities.

In 1993, Kennedy was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition he has received numerous literary awards, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Regents Medal of Excellence from the State University of New York, and a Governor's Arts Award. He was also named a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the board of directors of the New York State Council for the Humanities. He is also the 2001-2002 Kritikos Professor at the University of Oregon. He was elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 2002.

Selected Bibliography 


The Ink Truck. New York: Viking Press, 1984.

Legs. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

Billy Phelan's Greatest Game. New York: Viking Press, 1978.

Ironweed. New York: Viking Press, 1983.

Quinn's Book. New York: Viking Press, 1988.

Very Old Bones. New York: Viking Press, 1992.

The Flaming Corsage. New York: Viking Press, 1996.

Roscoe. New York: Viking Press, 2002. 



O Albany!: Improbable City of Political Wizards, Fearless Ethnics, Spectacular Aristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and Underrated Scoundrels. New York: Viking Press, 1983.

The Making of Ironweed, New York: Viking Penguin, 1988.

Riding the Yellow Trolley Car, New York: Viking Press, 1993. 



The Cotton Club. Co-authored with Francis Ford Coppola. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Ironweed. Tri-Star, 1987. 



Grand View. Premiered at Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany, NY, 1996.

In the System. HumaniTech* Short Play Project Premiere, UAlbany, March 2003. 


Children's Books

Charlie Malarkey and the Belly Button Machine (co-authored with Brendan Kennedy). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

Charlie Malarkey and the Singing Moose (co-authored with Brendan Kennedy). New York: Viking Children's Books, 1994.