Books by Pagan Kennedy

Pagan Kennedy is the author of seven books. The most recent, Black Livingstone, was a New York Times Notable Book and a winner of the Massachusetts Book Award. Her novel Spinsters won a Barnes & Noble Discover Award and was short-listed for Great Britain'

INVENTOLOGY by Pagan Kennedy
Released: Jan. 26, 2016

"A delightful account of how inventors do what they do."
A journalist delivers an enthusiastic overview of inventions and the researchers that study them. Read full book review >
Released: March 6, 2007

"Sheds welcome light on the changes in society's attitudes and in scientific thinking about gender."
The revealing story of an Oxford graduate named Laura Dillon, who secretively transformed herself into a man several years before Christine Jorgensen made "transsexual" a household word. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2006

A dispirited academic discovers a drug that lets him relive better days. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 14, 2002

"A convincing brief to make an honored place for this now-forgotten adventurer in both African and American history."
Novelist Kennedy (The Exes, 1998, etc.) portrays the first African-American missionary in the Congo. Read full book review >
THE EXES by Pagan Kennedy
Released: July 1, 1998

Kennedy (Spinsters, 1995, etc.) makes much of the GenX scene she knows well in this witty, sincere, if fluffy saga of four musicians who form a band with a shot at the big time—if they can only surmount their utterly snarled lives. Hank is a purist, having played his guitar in various groups around home-base Boston until decamping, miffed that perfection's so hard to find. His musical vision begins to take shape, however, when he teams up with his ex-girlfriend Lilly: her lyrics contain flashes of genius that he can fine-tune. Together they dream up the idea of a band comprised solely of people who used to be lovers—just enough of a hook to get them gigs until their sound can make its own reputation. So bisexual bassist Shaz is recruited fresh from another band she's soured on because it's about to sign a record company contract. She brings with her one of her exes, Walt, a gawky Harvard biochemistry grad student, ace drummer, and recent head case. The team in place, Hank and Lilly make the most of it, practicing and promoting until the band is a hot item. But Hank and Lilly become an item again as well, which adds to the stress of pushing the band, and no sooner do they choose to cool it than Lilly decides to get pregnant by her regular boyfriend. When the band goes on its first extended tour, Shaz, ever-wary of being compromised by commercial demands, balks. Hank moves quickly to find a replacement, alienating Walt—and so it goes, four paths diverging along the rocky road to success. Touchingly open and amusing, though the story, barely distinguishable from standard sitcom fare, suffers from a cloying feel-goodness. Every character's so likable, and so conventional, that Kennedy defeats her own purpose. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

This unconventional memoir, as life-affirming as it is hip, shows and tells all about the author's self-published, Xeroxed magazine, which helped her survive and flourish during her postcollegiate years. After completing Johns Hopkins University's graduate writing program, cultural critic and fiction writer Kennedy (Stripping and Other Stories, 1994, etc.) was highly ambitious but creatively frozen. So instead of competing to be a ``famous young writer'' in New York, she decided to move to the Boston area and make herself a star, and while she was at it ``trick people into liking me . . . get dates. . . and transform my boring life into an epic story.'' Thus her 'zine (called ``Pagan's Head'') was born. Distributed to friends and acquaintances, and using a mix of text, cartoons, and clip art, it featured tributes to childhood pals, reflections on the Nixon era, paeans to platform shoes, thrift stores, and the Partridge Family, and her crushes on Friedrich Nietzsche and Henry Adams. And it worked, Kennedy says; she became ``the 'zine queen of Boston.'' Each of the eight issues is reprinted here, accompanied by essays about the making of ``Pagan's Head.'' Here she explores the contrast between the bold and witty public persona she created and her ``real-life-Pagan'' self, a semi-insecure, brainy woman who discusses seriously such matters as her dad's death from cancer, the Gulf War, her ovarian tumor, and her ancestors' slave-owning past. But eventually, with the help of her 'zine and the self- discovery that follows, she pools her resources and becomes the unified, present Pagan. Kennedy's delightful chronicle is enough to make you want to pick up a pen and start your own personal fanzine or put on some platforms and dance in the streets. Read full book review >
SPINSTERS by Pagan Kennedy
Released: June 26, 1995

A slim novella that—like the author's story collection (Stripping, 1993)—chronicles the dramatic loss of innocence of its female lead: Here, the narrator and her sister take to the road, though not quite in the manner of Thelma and Louise. Doris and Fran, whose memoir this is, are 30-ish ``spinsters- in-training'' who live comfortably in small-town New Hampshire circa 1968. Having attended their father until his recent death, they've existed in a historical and social vacuum. Now, when Doris convinces Fran to visit their widowed aunt in Virginia, the two discover en route that ``the whole world had grown young.'' Doris literally lets down her hair and gets into the groove of the times, but Fran clings to what she has known—which isn't much. Jilted in her one chaste romance by a dull librarian, she eventually entertains the wildness within her. In Memphis, where they've gone to visit another relative, she reluctantly dyes her hair, abandons her smart suits for a contemporary frock, and decides with Doris to drive on. Joining them are their young, immature niece and her brooding boyfriend, an 18-year-old headed for college but afraid of the draft. Fran spends some time recounting her history of sexual fear and repression; she also dwells on her dead parents: the mother a possible suicide, the father an unfashionable conscientious objector in WW II who later regretted his decision. When Fran's pent-up desire bubbles over, it does so with a vengeance, though not quite enough so to match the sexual revolution going on around her. Kennedy's historical context, telegraphed with newspaper headlines and TV in the background, overdetermines the events here, limiting the sense of authenticity in an intendedly naturalistic book. And Fran's faux-naãf voice is at times jarringly worldly, creating an unwanted tonal dissonance. In short: a deeply flawed, if admirable, first novel. Read full book review >
STRIPPING by Pagan Kennedy
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

Despite her cutting-edge credentials—editor of a hip 'zine, star of an offbeat cable show, writer for The Nation and The Village Voice—Kennedy's literary debut is a modest, rather conventional collection of ten stories, a few of which have appeared in The Quarterly, Story Quarterly and VLS. Most of Kennedy's stories, regardless of time or place, record the loss of innocence by young women and girls who don't necessarily regret their passage into adulthood. That can't be said, though, of the narrator of the title piece—an old woman whose life was forever altered when her older cousin raped her many years ago, an incident that has also haunted her other cousin, a helpless witness to the event. In ``The Tunnel,'' a young girl discovers the pleasures of lying when she disobeys her father's warning about running through a dangerous tunnel. The narrator of ``The Dead Rabbits'' recalls a horse-riding accident at age ten, an incident that made her realize her father's inability to protect her from all harm. ``Camp'' and ``The Black Forest'' unerringly capture the drama of girls in search of experience: a young camper who tries to seduce an awkward brainiac like herself; and a naive college freshman who's overwhelmed by her reading of Nietzsche. In the slacker romance of ``UFO,'' a bright young woman realizes that her moody, acid-dropping boyfriend just might be really crazy. A reverse sort of revelation comes in ``Shrinks,'' the story of a young woman raised on mood-altering drugs and psychiatry by her neurotic mother—the daughter realizes she doesn't need either. ``Elvis's Bathroom,'' a knowing look at a funky punk couple (he, a burnt-out case at 30; she, a vivacious 18-year-old) celebrates her guileless enthusiasm for life, and her desire to see the spot where the King died. A winning collection of stories by a beginner worth watching. Read full book review >