Authors: Reginald McKnight

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Identity: African American

Author Works

Long Fiction:

I Get on the Bus, 1990

He Sleeps, 2001

Short Fiction:

Moustapha’s Eclipse, 1988

The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas, 1992

White Boys, 1998

Edited Texts:

American Wisdom, 1994

Wisdom of the African World, 1996

Biography

Perhaps no other writer devotes so much attention to defining race and culture in the United States in the post-Civil Rights movement era as Reginald McKnight. Born in Germany in 1956 to Frank McKnight and Pearl Anderson McKnight, as the son of a career Air Force sergeant, he spent his childhood living all over the United States. As an adult, he would continue this pattern by frequently relocating, as if to feed some embedded need to explore culture and race geographically.{$I[A]McKnight, Reginald[MacKnight, Reginald]}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;McKnight, Reginald[MacKnight, Reginald]}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;McKnight, Reginald[MacKnight, Reginald]}{$I[tim]1956;McKnight, Reginald[MacKnight, Reginald]}

After earning a degree from Colorado College in 1981, McKnight embarked upon what was to be the pivotal experience of his life: He went to Dekal, Senegal, to teach English as a second language at the American Cultural Center. There he spent some two years, living much of the time in a rural African village without any modern amenities. He became fascinated with such matters as being black, being African, being African American, and being white and “mainstream”–these issues of identity pervade his works. Speaking neither French nor Wolof (the main language in Senegal), while in Africa he wrote at least eight hours each day and produced about 250,000 words, most of which were apprenticeship material.

After returning to the United States to teach English in Colorado Springs and Denver, he married Michelle Davis in 1985 and settled into a routine of teaching and writing with even more vigor and seriousness. In 1988 he published a collection of short fiction titled Moustapha’s Eclipse; the stories are set in both Africa and North America. His stated purpose, however, was to explore what he called the “deracination” in the United States among those who reached maturity–white and black alike–after the changes wrought by the 1960’s and the Civil Rights movement. In 1989 he completed the M.A. program in creative writing at the University of Denver.

Pursuant to the publication of Moustapha’s Eclipse (his master’s thesis), McKnight won several awards, including the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, a fellowship at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the O. Henry Award. In the late 1980’s he relocated to Pennsylvania, where he taught creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh and at Carnegie Mellon University. His first novel, I Get on the Bus, was published in 1990, soon to be followed by a second short-story collection titled The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas.

From 1994 until 2000, he taught creative writing at the University of Maryland, during which time he published two edited works, American Wisdom and Wisdom of the African World, and the short-story collection White Boys. In 2000 he accepted a position at the University of Michigan, and in 2002 he was appointed the first Hamilton Holmes Professor at the University of Georgia.

McKnight’s contributions to literature have derived mostly from his concern with race and culture as components of identity and reality. Characters struggle to define themselves in a white, mainstream, dominant culture which essentially exudes pervasive racelessness. Moreover, characters often clash among themselves within their own races and cultures. The difference between being black and being African American, or the extent to which African Americans have an African identity, are the kinds of questions posed within his works. Perhaps McKnight never fully answers these questions, but he does succeed in exploring them meaningfully.

BibliographyMcKnight, Reginald. “An Interview with Reginald McKnight.” Interview by Renée Olander. The Writer’s Chronicle 3 (February, 2000): 5-14. McKnight discusses literary influences, his writing philosophies, the use of the word “nigger,” and two of his works: I Get on the Bus and White Boys.McKnight, Reginald. “We Are, in Fact, a Civilization.” Interview by William Walsh. Kenyon Review 16, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 27-42. McKnight discusses his background, writing style, and use of first-and third-person narrative.Megan, Carolyn. “New Perceptions on Rhythm in Reginald McKnight’s Fiction.” Kenyon Review 16, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 56-62. Megan discusses the importance of sound and rhythm in McKnight’s writing process. Her discussion includes the emotional responses evoked by this rhythm.Peterson, V. R. “Picks and Pans–The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas.” People 37, no. 15 (April 20, 1992): 39-40. A favorable review of the short-story collection, with comments about the title story and “Quitting Smoking.”
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