William Melvin Kelley

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William Melvin Kelley
Born (1937-11-01)November 1, 1937
New York City, New York
Died February 1, 2017(2017-02-01) (aged 79)
Manhattan, New York
Occupation Writer, educator
Alma mater Harvard University
Genre Novel, short story
Notable works A Different Drummer, dem
Notable awards Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Spouse Karen (Aiki) Kelley[1]
Children Jessica (daughter), Cira (daughter)[1]

William Melvin Kelley (November 1, 1937 – February 1, 2017) was a prominent African-American novelist and short-story writer. He is perhaps best known for his debut novel, A Different Drummer, published in 1962.[2] He was also a university professor and creative writing instructor. In 2008, he received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Life and work[edit]

William Melvin Kelley was born in New York City on November 1, 1937.[2] He was educated at the Fieldston School in New York. Later, he attended Harvard University (class of 1960),[3] where he studied under John Hawkes and Archibald MacLeish. While a student at Harvard, he was awarded the Dana Reed Prize for creative writing.[2]

Kelley was also a teacher and writing instructor. His academic appointments included a time as writer-in-residence at the State University of New York at Geneseo; he also taught at the New School for Social Research and at Sarah Lawrence College from 1989[4] until his death in 2017.[2]

In 1988 Kelley starred in “Excavating Harlem in 2290,” which he also wrote and produced, collaborating with Steve Bull to bring it to the screen.[2] Another film to which Kelley contributed is “The Beauty That I Saw," assembled from Kelley's own video diaries of Harlem. Edited by Benjamin Oren Abrams, this film was featured at the Harlem International Film Festival in 2015.[2]

Over the course of his career, Kelley published four novels and a volume of short stories. In an interview from 2012, Kelley claims to have completed two more novels that have, thus far, remained unpublished.[5] According to Robert E. Fleming:

"From the beginning of his career in 1962, William Melvin Kelley has employed his distinctive form of Black comedy to examine the absurdities surrounding American racial attitudes."[6]


Kelley died in Manhattan on February 1, 2017 due to complications from kidney failure. He was 79.[2][1]



  1. ^ a b c Boyd, Herb (February 10, 2017). "Author William Melvin Kelley passes at 79". Amsterdam News. Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Grimes, William (8 February 2017). "William Melvin Kelley, Who Explored Race in Experimental Novels, Is Dead at 79" – via NYTimes.com. 
  3. ^ Blacks at Harvard, by Werner Sollors, Caldwell Titcomb, Randall Kennedy, Thomas A. Underwood, NYU Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8147-7973-5, ISBN 978-0-8147-7973-6
  4. ^ Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Emmanuel S. Nelson, editor. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 238. See web version (accessed September 16, 2008)
  5. ^ https://mosaicmagazine.org/william-melvin-kelley-interview/#.WKACYes8KrV
  6. ^ excerpted from The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997), quoted from aalbc.com (accessed September 16, 2008)

External links[edit]