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He’s a ‘genius:’ St. Louis native, writer wins prestigious award 0

John Keene, a Rutgers University professor and writer who published a semi-autobiographical book about growing up black in St. Louis, was among 25 people honored Thursday with “genius” grants.

The honors and their award of $625,000 are handed out yearly by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

Keene is the chair of African American and African studies at Rutgers University. His first book, “Annotations,” captures his coming-of-age story growing up black and queer in St. Louis in the ’70s and ’80s. His most recent book, “Counternarratives,” takes stories based on both history and fiction and re-imagines them from new perspectives.

Keene has also published some works of poetry. Often, his works focus on marginalized groups such as African-Americans, Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ community.

“In his fiction and in a number of other projects spanning translation, poetry, and cultural criticism, Keene is correcting and enlarging our distorted, partial views of American history and culture, and challenging his readers to question received understandings of our past,” a statement on the MacArthur Foundation website reads.

“One of the things I hope to do with my work is to give (marginalized) voices a space in fiction so that they can reach the wider world,” Keene said in a video posted to the MacArthur Foundation website.

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