Keenan Norris

Keenan Norris

Faculty on Leave of Absence

Faculty member Keenan Norris’ novel Brother and the Dancer (Heyday Books 2013) won the James D. Houston Award. In September his story collection by the lemon tree will be published. He’s completing his next book, about Richard Wright, Chicago, and the problem with “Chi-Raq”.

Keenan is a 2017 Marin Headlands Artist-in-Residence and a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow. In the latter role, he developed a multimedia installation,, for the February 2017 Yerba Buena Public Square event. He’s served as a guest editor for the Oxford African-American Studies Center and also helps to organize the annual Pasadena Literary Festival.

Norris’s short work, both fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous forums, including the Los Angeles Review of Books,, Oakland Noir, Post-Soul Satire: Black Identity After Civil Rights, Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California’s Inland Empire, BOOM: A Journal of California and the upcoming San Bernardino literary anthology. He is the editor of the critical volume Street Lit: Representing the Urban Landscape (Scarecrow Press 2013).



PhD in English, Emphasis: American and African-American Literature, Urban Literature, University of California, Riverside
MFA in English and Creative Writing, Mills College
MA in English, University of California, Riverside
BA in English, University of California, Riverside

Areas of Expertise

  • Fiction
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • Cross-Genre / Hybrid

Personal Statement

Cornel West likes to say that he seeks to “un-house” his students and those who come to his events to hear him speak. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge just how high the walls of our collectively imagined house are: They bound and cordon us, providing a sense of ideological safety and artistic right and value. Unhousing ourselves is never easy, nor is it ever finished.

My overall method as an advisor is premised upon first understanding and then consciously and intentionally moving beyond literary and ideological conventions. This can take on many different guises, whether it be pairing a famous slave narrative text with James McBride’s scathingly funny historical novel, The Good Lord Bird, in an African-American Literature course, or challenging a Critical Thinking class to apply Socratic Method principles to the ghetto predicaments that Walter Mosley’s Socrates Fortlow character finds himself in. The idea is not only to get out of doors, but to get to know the walls within which we’ve been sequestered, their power and purpose, and why staying inside both solaces and numbs us.

At Goddard, I utilize my dual background as novelist and scholar to facilitate student exploration of hybrid and cross-genre fiction and narrative non-fiction. I’m interested in texts that ask readers to re-assess what our genres are and the purpose that they serve. I look forward to innovating together with my students, joining literary modes in fresh and exciting ways. And, yes, of course, I do teach fiction as well.

My dissertation, completed in 2013, Marginalized-Literature-Market-Life: Black Writers, a Literature of Appeal and the Rise of Street Lit examines the relationship of the American publishing industry to Black American writers, with special focus on the re-emergence of the street lit sub-genre. While still completing the dissertation, I conceptualized and brought to fruition Street Lit: Representing the Urban Landscape (Scarecrow Press, 2013), a seminal critical anthology that explores how and why street lit, once an underground genre, has become such a vital force in contemporary literature while simultaneously escaping academic attention.

Inspired my street lit studies, I’m developing the noir hybrid project short story-personal essay “A Murder of Saviors Part I and II”. “Part I”, the short story, is slated for publication as part of Akashic’s forthcoming Oakland Noir (Akashic Press, 2016), which is an anthology that features a noir story set in each of Oakland, California’s neighborhoods. “Part II”, the narrative non-fiction essay, is still in progress. Told from the point of view of a self-appointed citizen journalist, “A Murder of Saviors” chronicles an era in Oakland marked both by rampant gang violence and an equally uncontrolled charter school movement beget by the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind education agenda.

While conventional literary publication is what an MFA program typically focuses on, it is important to keep in mind that media is evolving and becoming more various than ever. Hybridity as a concept challenges us to bring our work into the world in multiple guises, connecting the written word to performance and digital media in exciting new ways. I look forward to sharing all that I’ve learned in this area with the Goddard community.