PERSONAL: Married Dona Ann McAdams (a photographer).
ADDRESSES: Home—VT. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scribner, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Taught at New School University and Antioch University.
AWARDS, HONORS: Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University, 2002; National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship.
Brer Rabbit and Boss Lion, collected by Joel Chandler Harris, illustrated by Bill Mayer, Rabbit Ears Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Firebird, illustrated by Robert Van Nutt, Rabbit Ears Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Moses the Lawgiver, illustrated by John Collier, Rabbit Ears Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Moses in Egypt, illustrated by Phil Huling, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
The Woodcutter's Christmas, photographs by wife, Dona Ann McAdams, Council Oak Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
Lick Creek, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.
Birds in Fall, Scribner (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of essay in Dona Ann McAdams: The Garden of Eden: November 7-December 31, 1997, Robert B. Menschel Photography Gallery (Syracuse, NY), 1997; contributor of essays and articles to periodicals, including the New Yorker, Nation, Kenyon Review, and the New York Times magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: Brer Rabbit and Boss Lion, read by Danny Glover, 1992; The Firebird, read by Susan Sarandon, 1996; John Henry, read by Denzel Washington, music by B.B. King, 2000; and Moses the Lawgiver, read by Ben Kingsley, 2006, have all been adapted as audiobooks, Rabbit Ears (Rowayton, CT).
SIDELIGHTS: Brad Kessler spent the early part of his writing career penning books for children, such as Brer Rabbit and Boss Lion and Moses in Egypt. In 2001 he authored his first novel, titled Lick Creek. Emily Jenkins, the protagonist of the novel, lives in the small town of Lick Creek, West Virginia, during the 1920s. One day, Emily's father, brother, and first love, all coal mine workers, are killed during an explosion in the mine. Afterwards, when Appalachian Light and Power offers Emily and her mother thirty dollars for permission to put up power lines on their farm, they gladly accept the money because they are struggling to survive. But when Emily is raped by the manager of the power company, she vows revenge, a course of action that eventually forces her and her new lover to leave town.
Lick Creek elicited mixed reviews. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel a "powerful, moving romance," and further commented that "the story's abrupt resolution may disappoint, but Kessler's lyrical prose is seductive." Although Tobin Harshaw, writing in the New York Times, felt that the book contained "little emotional complexity," BookPage Web site contributor Gregory Harris pointed out that "Kessler masterfully expands his range," and found that the novel "conjures the mystery and tranquility of the deep West Virginia mountains." Booklist critic Elsa Gaztam-bide agreed, remarking that "electricity becomes the conduit for love, loss, and revenge in Kessler's enthralling first novel."
In 2006 Kessler published his second novel, Birds in Fall. The story begins as an airplane crashes into the sea directly off Trachis Island, near Nova Scotia, Canada. Shortly thereafter, Kevin Gearns, the owner of the local inn, finds himself accommodating the victims' families as they travel to the crash site to mourn. Among the many different relatives who arrive is American ornithologist Ana Gathreaux, who lost her ornithologist husband in the accident. Other characters include a Bulgarian pianist who lost his cellist wife; Diana Olmstead, a Buddhist whose sister died in the crash; and the Liangs, a Taiwanese couple who stay up all night waiting for their deceased daughter to appear. The families contemplate the fates of their loved ones, and are brought together by their attempts to connect with the dead.
Many critics applauded Kessler's use of spiritual undertones in Birds in Fall. Indeed, a Kirkus Reviews critic thought Kessler's novel is "as much concerned with the spirit as the flesh," and found "the elegance of the meditation on mortality" to be "essential to the story." Additionally, Lawrence Rungren, writing in the Library Journal, acknowledged that in the novel, "migration and metamorphosis form the overarching, almost mythic themes," and subsequently called Birds in Fall "a perfect gem." Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman held a similar opinion; she called the book "entrancingly beautiful and psychologically incisive," and concluded that it is "an exquisitely empathic and poetically acute study in grief and survival."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2001, Elsa Gaztambide, review of Lick Creek, p. 918; March 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Birds in Fall, p. 65.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2005, review of Birds in Fall, p. 1248.
Library Journal, January 1, 2006, Lawrence Rungren, review of Birds in Fall, p. 98.
New York Times, April 1, 2001, Tobin Harshaw, "Juiced," review of Lick Creek.
Publishers Weekly, January 15, 2001, review of Lick Creek, p. 50.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (April 21, 2006), Gregory Harris, review of Lick Creek.
Hudson Valley Writers' Center Web Site, http://www.writerscenter.org/ (April 21, 2006), brief biography of author.