Keenan Norris

Artist in Residence, 2017

A portrait of a person.

Artist Statement

Going back some, I published a novel, Brother and the Dancer, in 2013. Then I graded five billion papers. Recently, I’ve been wandering my landscape of artistic and social concerns: I facilitated a study abroad program for people of color and economically disadvantaged students. I worked as editor/curator for the Oxford African-American Studies Center. I became a YBCA creative fellow, producing works for the November 2015 and February 18, 2017 Public Squares. I even started writing about politics, a sure route to sorrow. As Headlands beckons, I’ve concluded that I’m a writer through and through— my work on Born by the River: Richard Wright, Barack Obama and “Chi-Raq” transports me to my father’s first world, Chicago, the 50s, the 60s. My novel without a name, in progress, situates me here in its setting in the many communities of the Bay Area.

While at Headlands

I plan to complete Born by the River: Richard Wright, Barack Obama and “Chi-Raq”, a book of essays which looks anew at the Great Migration and Chicago itself, contemplating also newer developments, like the city’s centrality in Barack Obama’s rise and its pop culture monicker as “Chi-Raq”, home to some of America’s most violent street gangs. The story is told by a man native to Chicago’s West Side streets who has tossed about in the political and urban tumult of the last half of the American century. He now makes his home in a remote California outpost and in his last days reflects upon it all.

Also, I’m working on a novel about a star-crossed Oakland rude boy whose luck lands him everywhere from the California Youth Authority to a prestigious prep school, an Oregon marijuana farm and finally the front lines of a fateful protest action.