Keeble, John 1944-

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Keeble, John 1944-


Born November 24, 1944, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; naturalized U.S. citizen; son of Raymond Charles William and Olivia Keeble; married Claire Sheldon (a violinist), September 4, 1964; children: Jonathan Sheldon, Ezekiel Jerome, Carson R.C. Education: University of Redlands, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1966; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1969; also attended Brown University.


Home—Medical Lake, WA. Agent—Denise Shannon, Denise Shannon Literary Agency, Inc., 20 W. 22nd St., Ste. 1603, New York, NY 10010.


Writer and educator. Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, member of faculty, 1979-72, writer-in-residence, 1971-72; Eastern Washington University, Cheney, assistant professor, 1973-77, associate professor of English to professor emeritus, 1977—, director of creative writing program for sixteen years; University of Alabama, held the Coal Royalty Trust Chair in Creative Writing three times, including 2002, visiting professor, 2003. Boise State University, distinguished visiting writer, 2006; board member and past board president of the Sitka, Alaska-based Island Institute.


Trustee's Medal, Eastern Washington University, 1980; Guggenheim fellowship, 1982-83; Washington State Governor's Award; Prairie Schooner Prize Series in Fiction, for Nocturnal America.


Crab Canon (novel), Grossman, 1971.

(With Ransom Jeffrey) Mine (novel), Grossman, 1974.

Salt (play), The Shade Co., New York, 1975.

Yellowfish (novel), HarperCollins, 1981.

Broken Ground (novel) HarperCollins, 1987.

Out of the Channel: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound (nonfiction), HarperCollins, 1991, revised and expanded 10th anniversary edition, Eastern Washington University Press (Cheney, WA) 1999.

Nocturnal America, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2006.

Also author of the television documentary To Write and Keep Kind, PBS, 1993. Contributor to anthologies, including Works in Progress, No. 1, Literary Guild of America, 1970; American Review, No. 25, edited by Ted Solataroff Bantam, 1976; Dialogues with Northwest Writers: Interview with Nine Writers, Including Tom Robbins, Mary Barnard, and Richard Hugo, edited by John Witte, Northwest Review Books, 1982; Dreamers and Desperadoes, an Anthology of Contemporary Writers of the American West; The Great Land; Reflections from the Island's Edge; Listening to the Land, Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Eros; Technological Disaster at Valdez; Arctic Refuge, A Circle of Testimony, Home Ground, and Best American Short Stories. Contributor of short fiction, interviews, and essays on political and ecological topics to periodicals, including Outside, American Short Fiction, Village Voice, Story, Left Bank, Volt, Zyzzyva, Black Warrior Review, Idaho Review, Northwest Review, and Prairie Schooner; also contributor to the web sites DemWorks and Camas.


John Keeble's Yellowfish "is a novel of self-discovery disguised as a thriller," wrote Rick DeMarinis in the Chicago Tribune Book World. "This is not to say that it fails on either level. On the contrary, John Keeble has managed to convince us that the act of self-discovery is a thrilling, dangerous adventure." The story of a smuggler, Wesley Erks, and his attempt to transport four illegal aliens from British Columbia to San Francisco, Yellowfish has been praised for its evocative portrait of the landscape and history of the Pacific Northwest. "The smuggler's route from Vancouver to San Francisco," wrote Jay Tolson in the Washington Post Book World, "provides the occasion for an elaborate discourse on the land—the forests and glaciers, the orchard country, the high desert stretching from Washington to Nevada, the great rivers and mountains—as well as its people and history. An amateur historian, Erks possesses a wealth of information, and his musings, whether they concern the folkways and lore of Native Americans, the travel narratives of early explorers and settlers, or the elaborate patterns of human migrations, provide a kind of historical analogue to the central action deepening the significance of the journey."

DeMarinis noted that Keeble's use of setting and history is essential to his story. "In the adventure stories that last, the ones we come back to again and again," he noted, "the lure is this: The exterior odyssey is ultimately interior, and the demons we encounter are the ones that live within us, dictating our lives." John Keeble, Demarinis also wrote, "has gone after this oldest of themes and has come back with the gold."

Keeble's fourth novel, 1987's Broken Ground, again uses the land as a metaphor for the spiritual struggles of its protagonist, Hank Lafleur. Lafleur is a troubled Vietnam veteran who has separated from his wife after the drowning death of their daughter. After his father suffers a severe stroke, Lafleur agrees to take over the construction of a secretive penal institute in a remote part of Oregon. But the project turns out to be more than he bargained for as he comes up against the head of the multinational corporation behind the construction. The very nature of the building itself is a force that raises perplexing moral questions for Lafleur: there is a section of the planned structure that he is convinced (by its physical design) will be used as a torture chamber. Why the chamber is needed and on who it will be used provides the novel's narrative thrust.

Although Sybil Steinberg's review of Broken Ground in Publishers Weekly found the details of the novel sometimes "excessive," she also asserted that there are numerous points that will hold a reader's interest, especially "the wider resonance of [Lafleur's] story." Likewise, Tom Nolan, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the novel "engrossing," and even though he found the book's attempts to deal with its philosophical themes—among them the relationship between perception and the environment, and "the mechanisms of personal guilt"—"disappointing," Nolan asserted that Keeble's book succeeds in "skillfully blending elements from" a variety of sources, including thrillers and magical realism. In his review of the novel, Los Angeles Times Book Review writer Don G. Campbell called Keeble a "lyrical writer," and stated that "mood fares better than plot." He claimed, however, that "if the motivations" of some of the characters, "including many of the protagonist's—remain maddeningly fuzzy," the book still "does an excellent job of painting corporate and personal greeds in conflict against the brooding background of a harsh land."

Keeble's 1991 foray into nonfiction, Out of the Channel: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, is "a hard-hitting, gripping account," of the repercussions and political and corporate handling of the environmental disaster which occurred when an Exxon oil tanker spilled eleven million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska, according to Genevieve Stuttaford in Publishers Weekly. It was the "nation's largest oil spill" to date, reported Timothy Egan in the New York Times Book Review, and, according to Egan, Keeble's work succeeds in showing "the spill was all the more dramatic because it was a clash of two extremes: the industrial world … versus primordial nature." For Egan, Keeble's book "tells the story of the great spill in a style and tone that is more impressionistic that it could have been," and the result is "engaging," if unstructured. Keeble's greatest talent wrote Egan, is "to find ironies in catastrophes"—like the fact that more oil was used in the clean-up effort than was actually spilled.

Keeble's collection of stories, Nocturnal America, was published in 2006 and contains eight interlinking short stories and a novella that revolve around the subjects of love, work, and death. As with most of his novels, the stories take place in the Pacific Northwest and feature self-reliant, hardy protagonists who seldom have the time or the desire for self-reflection until catastrophe strikes, often in the form of death. For example, in "Zeta's House," the story is told by a narrator who is talking with Zeta about her recently deceased daughter and her surviving son's strange conclusion about his sister's demise. The short stories also feature recurring characters such as Jim Blood, who is a child in "Chickens," a grown man and struggling farmer in "The Chasm," and a secure landowner in "Freeing the Apes."

Nocturnal America received widespread praise from reviewers. Kellie Gillespie, writing in the Library Journal, called the collection "a haunting and touching look at love and life." Several reviewers also noted the author's writing style. For example, Booklist's Carol Haggas commented that the author "is adept at speaking from either the male or female point of view." Jon Baskin wrote on the Small Spiral Notebook blog: "At its best, Keeble's prose matches the workaday stoicism of these men and women."



Booklist, October 15, 2006, Carol Haggas, review of Nocturnal America, p. 29.

Chicago Tribune Book World, February 17, 1980, Rick DeMarinis, review of Yellowfish.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006, review of Nocturnal America, p. 867.

Library Journal, November 15, 2006, Kellie Gillespie, review of Nocturnal America, p. 61.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 20, 1987, Don G. Campbell, review of Broken Ground, p. 7.

Newsweek, February 11, 1980, review of Yellowfish, p. 86.

New Yorker, April 28, 1980, review of Yellowfish, p. 142.

New York Times Book Review, February 10, 1980, review of Yellowfish, p. 15; March 6, 1988, Tom Nolan, review of Broken Ground, p. 20; April 28, 1991, Timothy Egan, review of Out of the Channel: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, p. 23.

Publishers Weekly, September 25, 1987, Sybil Steinberg, review of Broken Ground, p. 92; February 22, 1991, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Out of the Channel, p. 206; September 11, 2006, review of Nocturnal America, p. 37

Washington Post Book World, October 4, 1987, Jay Tolson, review of Yellowfish, p. 12.


Eastern Washington University Web site, (June 29, 2007), faculty profile of author.

John Keeble Home Page, (June 29, 2007).

Small Spiral Notebook, (January 1, 2007), Jon Baskin, review of Nocturnal America.