2017 Emerging Artist Prize in literature
Inspired by The Three Investigators juvenile detective books, Kevin P. Keating took his first stab at writing a novel in fifth grade at St. Raphael School in Bay Village.
“When you’re a kid, you just try to imitate what you admire,” he says. “It was probably pretty odd for my parents to see their kid just writing all the time, but that’s what I did.”
Although he started writing fiction early and has never stopped, it took another couple of decades of attending St. Ignatius High School, toiling as a union boilermaker in Cleveland and Chicago steel mills, earning his bachelor’s (Columbia College, Chicago, 1993) and master’s degrees (Cleveland State University, 1999) in English, and teaching as an adjunct faculty member at several Cleveland universities before he published his debut novel, The Natural Order of Things, in 2013.
Kevin remembers feeling confident upon completion of his first manuscript, but then it was rejected by 12 or 14 different publishers. Finally, the book was picked up by a tiny publisher, in New Orleans. Thanks to the attention raised by a review in Publisher’s Weekly, the Los Angeles Times named him one of four finalists for its 2013 Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Comprised of 15 interconnected stories, the book is a dark and powerful study of the human condition, transpiring in a landscape inspired by his beloved hometown.
At that point, Random House bought the rights, and he was able to get an agent, who brokered a two-book deal with Random House. “I never thought that anything like that would happen, and then it did happen,” he says. “It was not an easy nut to crack, and it was a very weird, circuitous route for me.”
His second novel, The Captive Condition, is a psychological thriller set in a midwestern college town and combines dark comedy with horror. Launched at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con International, the book is currently being developed into a television series. The novel garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was also selected as an essential summer read by Joanna Connors, book editor of The Plain Dealer.
His Publishers Weekly review commented, “The comically formal tone of the first two-thirds shows Keating to be an astute student of spooky scene-setters from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King to David Lynch. But in many of the final passages, such as a horrific building fire, he proves to be at least their equal.”
George Bilgere, Ph.D. (CAP 2003), associate professor in the English department at John Carroll University, says of his colleague: “What’s distinct about Kevin’s writing is that he always plays out the drama and that really fruitful friction between the intellectual and the hard-working realities of the Rust Belt world. He’s part of the tradition in American fiction going back to the early 20th century of novels about young men or women born into small towns and yearning for something better, something bigger.”
Wherever he travels for book signings or readings, Kevin says he always tries to serve as an ambassador from Cleveland, promoting his hometown. Winning the Cleveland Arts Prize just adds to that commitment. “My grandfather was a Cleveland cop, and I’ve got such deep roots in the city because I come from a long line of boilermakers, ironworkers and firefighters.I feel like our blood is in this town, so it’s especially meaningful for me to win this prize.”
Kevin is currently writing his third novel, In the Secret Parts of Fortune, which he hopes to complete this fall. Additionally, he is the author of more than 50 short stories and essays, a number of which have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the storySouth Million Writers Award. His work has appeared in national publications like Salon, The Believer, Exquisite Corpse, and many literary magazines, including Whiskey Island.
He has also taught at Baldwin Wallace University, Cleveland State University, John Carroll University, Lakeland Community College and Lorain County Community College. He expects to complete his masters of fine arts (MFA) in fiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University, in 2018. In 2014, he received a Cuyahoga County Creative Workforce Fellowship and was named one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People by Cleveland Magazine.