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William Joseph Kennedy Biography

(1928– ), The Ink Truck, Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, Ironweed

American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and film critic, born in Albany, New York State. Kennedy's first novel, The Ink Truck (1969), a study of resistance, features a columnist named Bailey, and deals with a prolonged newspaper strike. His next two novels established a reputation for a grittily realist fiction which investigated the lives of those who have lost in some degree in the race to pursue the ‘American Dream’. Legs (1975) portrayed the life of the noted gangster Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond. Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978), narrated by reporter Martin Daugherty, focuses on the seedy and doomed characters in the isolated dives of Albany's Broadway. Francis Phelan, Billy's father, is the central figure in Ironweed (1983, Pulitzer Prize), a harrowing story of the Depression years, which intertwines his past with the present relationship with his Vassar-educated hobo girlfriend, and the results of being brought face-to-face with his old house, wife, and children. It was subsequently filmed in 1987, starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Much of Kennedy's writing is centred on the seedy side of New York state's capital city, Albany; he has also written a series of essays and articles on Albany, most notably O Albany! An Urban Tapestry (1983). Quinn's Book (1988) focuses on the residents of pre-Civil War Albany, notably Daniel Quinn and his experiences with ‘Maud the Wondrous’. In 1984 Kennedy co-authored the screenplay of The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola, which deals with the gangsters of the 1930s and the stars of the Harlem night-club scene.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Patrick Kavanagh Biography to Knocknarea Sligo