Kevin Killian, 1952–2019

Killian Kevin in 2012. Photo by Daniel Nicoletta.
Killian Kevin in 2012. Photo by Daniel Nicoletta.

Here at Jacket2 we are mourning the loss of Kevin Killian at age sixty-six this past weekend. Killian was born on December 24, 1952, on Long Island, New York. He was the author of more than thirty novels, plays, stories, and poetry collections, some of the best-known of his works being Shy (The Crossing Press, 1989), Little Men (Hard Press, 1996), Arctic Summer (Masquerade Books, 1997), Argento Series (Krupskaya, 2001), Action Kylie (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 2008), Impossible Princess (City Lights, 2009, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Erotica), Spreadeagle (Publication Studio, 2012), Tweaky Village (Wonder, 2014). He also coedited, with David Brazil, The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater: 1945–1985 (Kenning Editions, 2010), among many other collaborations. A prominent figure in the San Francisco–based New Narrative movement, Killian was the founder of Small Press Traffic and cofounder of Poets Theater in San Francisco, where he lived from 1980 until his death, on June 15, 2019. 

At Killian’s PennSound page you will find a collection of recordings that includes a September 19, 1997, event hosted by the Kelly Writers House in Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. The program featured Killian and his wife, the acclaimed writer Dodie Bellamyin conversation and was organized by Kerry Sherin Wright, director of the Writers House, and Joshua Schuster, who was a student here at the time.

The recording opens with Killian, midsentence, describing how Jack Spicer came to attend UC Berkeley, where he refused to sign the Loyalty Oath in 1950 (“I don’t know if you have that here,” Killian tells the Penn audience, to laughs). Killian coedited, with Lewis Ellingham, Spicer’s posthumously published detective novels, The Train of Thought: (Chapter III of a Detective Novel) (Zasterle Press, 1994) and The Tower of Babel (Talisman House, 1994); cowrote, with Ellingham, the biography Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (Wesleyan University Press, 1998); and coedited, with Peter Gizzi, My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008), which won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Killian once told Rain Taxi, “I’m an artist with a complicated relationship to California and to the class in which I was born. I guess I’m more like Spicer than I thought.”

Killian’s PennSound page also includes his 1991 talk on Spicer at the Kootenay School of Writing; a 2007 reading of his poems “Norwegian Wood” and “Is It All Over My Face?” at the launch of EOAGH Issue 3: Queering Language; and his January 31, 2015, reading with CAConrad and Jennifer Moxley at Frank O’Hara’s Last Lover, the Philadelphia reading series curated by Jason Mitchell at Snockey’s Oyster and Crab House Rose Room.

Killian’s several critical contributions to this journal bear his trademark collegial and empathetic support of fellow writers, and include his remembrance of Don Allen in Jacket 25 (February 2004); his interview of Landis Everson in Jacket 26 (October 2004); and his essay on the coded queer encryptions of Jack Spicer and Allen Sherman in Jacket 37 (Early 2009). You can find the full list of his writings at his Jacket2 contributor page