"Our community mourns the passing of one of our greatest voices, Maurice Kenny; we offer blessings for his sprit."
- Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas
The beloved elder Maurice Kenny is being mourned by Indian Country and the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. Kenny, a gifted and award-winning poet, essayist, fiction writer, and publisher of Strawberry Press of Mohawk and Seneca descent, walked-on April 16, 2016 at his home in Saranac Lake, NY.
As a founding member of the Native Writers Circle, he brought many Native writers to the attention of the American and international literary communities.
As the author of twenty-three books of poetry, and six books of prose; his work was published in more than one hundred journals, and translated into nine languages.
In 2000, the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers awarded Maurice the Elder Recognition Award and in 2002, he received the Native Writers’ Circle Lifetime Achievement Award by a vote of his peers.
Maurice Kenny’s writings were included in sixty-three anthologies and textbooks to include: From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900-2002 (Da Capo Press 2002), The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry, Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: Contemporary American Indian Poetry (Greenfield Review Press, 1983) and The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (UNM Press, 1981).
Maurice Kenny was also involved in several radio, television and film productions and served on the Board of Directors for the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, the New York Foundation for the Arts and WSLU-FM radio. He coordinated such events as the Iroquois Arts Festival at Saranac Lake and Writer's Week at Tupper Lake. He has served as director of The Little Gallery and as the art director of the Blue Moon Cafe, both in Saranac Lake.
Maurice was a dedicated mentor to many poets and writers, both Native and non-Native. He was known both for his quick wit and a mastery of poetics evident in published collections such as Blackrobe: Isaac Jogues, Tekonwatonti: Molly Brant, and The Mama Poems, which earned an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1984. In 1996, On Second Thought was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in fiction. He was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, for his book Blackrobe: Isaac Jogues and the poetry collection Between Two Rivers.
His most recent poetry collection, Saranac Lake Ghost Poems was published by Ghost City Press (2016). At the time of his death, a new multi-genre manuscript, “Mo-nah-se-tah,” about Custer’s Cheyenne wife - with whom Custer reportedly had a child - had been accepted by Mongrel Empire Press and is in revisions with editor Chad Sweeney.
Maurice was unafraid to approach difficult and controversial subjects such as the historical oppression of Native Americans and his own two-spirit identity that he claimed publicly in a mid-1970s essay entitled “Tinselled Bucks: An Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality,” which appeared in the journal Gay Sunshine, and was later republished in Will Roscoe’s Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology (St. Martin’s Press, 1988). His work often featured strong female characters, evincing a traditional understanding of the importance of women in Native society.