Keene’s collection of 13 stories and novellas examines lives marked by the tectonic historical pressures of its five-century scope. Jumping from Reformation-era Brazil to Puritan New England to Langston Hughes’s Harlem, it is that rare book of short fiction with an epic intuition of time, accomplishing in a handful of inspired, intimate portraits what many sagas only manage in reams.

Julian Lucas, The New York Times

John Keene

John Keene is the author, co-author, and translator of a handful of books, including Annotations (1995) and Counternarratives (2015), both published by New Directions. Counternarratives received an American Book Award, a Lannan Literary Award, a Republic of Consciousness Prize (UK), and a Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction. His most recent publication, Punks: New & Selected Poems (The Song Cave, 2021), received the 2022 National Book Award for Poetry, the Thom Gunn Award from the Publishing Triangle and a 2022 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. A 2018 MacArthur Fellow, he is Distinguished Professor and serves as department chair at Rutgers University-Newark.

cover image of the book Counternarratives


Ranging from the 17th century to the present and crossing multiple continents, Counternarratives’ novellas and stories draw upon memoirs, newspaper accounts, detective stories, interrogation transcripts, and speculative fiction to create new and strange perspectives on our past and present. In “Rivers,” a free Jim meets up decades later with his former raftmate Huckleberry Finn; “An Outtake” chronicles an escaped slave’s fate in the American Revolution; “On Brazil, or Dénouement” burrows deep into slavery and sorcery in early colonial South America; and in “Blues” the great poets Langston Hughes and Xavier Villaurrutia meet in Depression-era New York and share more than secrets.

More Information
cover image of the book Annotations


An experimental first novel of poem-like compression, Annotations has a great deal to say about growing up Black in St. Louis. Reminiscent of Jean Toomer’s Cane, the book is in part a meditation on African-American autobiography. Keene explores questions of identity from many angles––from race to social class to sexuality (gay and straight). Employing all manner of textual play and rhythmic and rhetorical maneuvers, he (re)creates his life story as a jazz fugue-in-words.

More Information
cover image of the book Macunaíma


by Mário de Andrade

Translated by Katrina Dodson

With a contribution by Katrina Dodson and John Keene

Here at last is an exciting new edition of the Brazilian modernist epic Macunaíma: The Hero with No Character, by Mário de Andrade. This landmark 1928 novel follows the adventures of the shapeshifting Macunaíma and his brothers as they leave their Amazon home for a whirlwind tour of Brazil, cramming four centuries and a continental expanse into a single mythic plane. Having lost a magic amulet, the hero and his brothers journey to São Paulo to retrieve the talisman that has fallen into the hands of an Italo-Peruvian captain of industry (who is also a cannibal giant). Written over six delirious days—the fruit of years of study—Macunaíma magically synthesizes dialect, folklore, anthropology, mythology, flora, fauna, and pop culture to examine Brazilian identity. This brilliant translation by Katrina Dodson has been many years in the making and includes an extensive section of notes, providing essential context for this magnificent work.

More Information
cover image of the book Conversation of the Three Wayfarers

Conversation of the Three Wayfarers

by Peter Weiss

Translated by E.B. Garside

With a contribution by John Keene

They were men who did nothing but walk walk walk. They were big, they were bearded, they wore leather caps and long raincoats, they called themselves Abel, Babel, and Cabel, and while they walked they talked to each other.

Conversation of the Three Wayfarers is a three-sided first-person monologue told by the wayfarers: Abel, Babel, and Cabel. The men exchange fantastic tales—of a bridge, a bride, and the ferryman’s sons; of an island, a river, a wharf—but one never knows who is speaking or where one tale leaves off and the next begins. The effect is of a series of breathless capers: a steeplechase performed on a floating pontoon.

More Information

Keene’s collection of 13 stories and novellas examines lives marked by the tectonic historical pressures of its five-century scope. Jumping from Reformation-era Brazil to Puritan New England to Langston Hughes’s Harlem, it is that rare book of short fiction with an epic intuition of time, accomplishing in a handful of inspired, intimate portraits what many sagas only manage in reams.

Julian Lucas, The New York Times

Keene’s story collection is truly radical—in its politics, in its stylistic restlessness, in its rethinking of the myths we tell ourselves about race and sexuality in the history of the Americas.

Anthony Domestico, The Boston Globe

In Counternarratives, John Keene undertakes a kind of literary counterarchaeology, a series of fictions that challenge our notion of what constitutes “real” or “accurate” history. His writing is at turns playful and erudite, lyric and coldly diagnostic, but always completely absorbing. Counternarratives could easily be compared to Borges or Bolaño, Calvino or Kiš.

Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine

A book of such richness that it’s hard to know where to begin. Keene fights, and does so with grace, an agile and often vicious wit, and a stubborn, cracking beauty.

Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation

Genius – brilliant, polished and of considerable depth.

Ishmael Reed, author of Mumbo Jumbo

Exquisite, and unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Eula Biss, author of On Immunity

We have become accustomed in recent years to the revisionary spirit of much postcolonial fiction, but the ambition, erudition and epic sweep of John Keene’s remarkable new collection of stories, traveling from the beginnings of modernity to modernism, place it in a class of its own. His book achieves no less than an imaginative repositioning of the history of the Americas … Keene is that rarest of things today, a writer whose radicalism connects the politics of history to the politics of fiction.

Katie Webb, TLS

Richly conceived and brilliantly executed, the most original set of fictions to be released so far this year.

Jonathan Sturgeon, FLAVORWIRE

This new story collection carves daring paths through the Western canon, reviving Jim and Huck Finn, Langston Hughes and Xavier Villaurrutia, sorcery, slavery, and colonialism. Keene’s blend of history and narrative, the familiar and the strange, reads like a furious Ishmael Reed channeling his inner Borges: careful yet caustic. Fans of “Annotations,” Keene’s brief, brilliant study of home, have waited a long time for his next offering. It is here, and it is brilliant and biting.

Hal Hlavinka, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn Paper

Counternarratives is a work of great distinction, a once in a generation work of short form fiction, moving the form on, deepening it. Few works of fiction operate on this kind of intellectual and textural level and still remain rooted in the human experience and a pleasure to read. […] Few novels are works of art and few works of art are moral acts – this is one of them.

Neil Griffiths, Review 31

Protean in style, erudite in reference, uncanny in effect, these stories and novellas inhabit, conjure, and invent characters written out of history by slavery, racism, and subordination.

Mark Sussman, Slate

Practically every sentence in the book perforates, stretches out, or pries open literary modes designed to be airtight, restrictive, and racially exclusionary…An expert generator of suspense, Keene also turns out to be a skilled humorist, a mischievous ironist, a deft, seductive storyteller and a studied historian.

Max Nelson, Bookforum

Counternarratives proffers a series of stories in which religion and spirituality, art and language, violence and subjugation, homosexuality and eroticism, may shine through a panoply of voices.

Patrick Disselhorst, Full Stop

Keene’s collection of short and longer historical fictions are formally varied, mold-breaking, and deeply political. He’s a radical artist working in the most conservative genres, and any search for innovation in this year’s U.S. fiction should start here.

Christian Lorentzen, Vulture

Queering the script, defying the imperative to be silent, however, does not require confidence or a vision of what progress means. It is, rather, in all its uncertainty and risk, the most basic stuff of—the very matter of—life. It is also the crowning achievement of one of the year’s very best books.

Brad Johnson, Quarterly Conversation

Of the scope of William T. Vollmann or Samuel R. Delany, but with a kaleidoscopic intuition all its own, Counternarratives is very easily one of the most vividly imagined and vitally timed books of the year. I haven’t felt so refreshed in quite a while as a reader.


Keene exerts superb control over his stories, costuming them in the style of Jorge Luis Borges…Yet he preserves the undercurrent of excitement and pathos that accompanies his characters’ persecution and their groping toward freedom.

Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Keene finds inspiration in newspaper clippings, memoirs, and history, and anchors them in the eternal, universal, and mystical.

Vanity Fair

Only a few, John Keene among them, in our age, authentically test the physics of fiction as both provocation and mastery. Continuing what reads like the story collection as freedom project, in Counternarratives, Keene opens swaths of history for readers to more than imagine but to manifest and live in the passionate language of conjure and ritual.

Major Jackson

Keene’s masterful prose smoothly transgresses traditional lines of representation and description

Publishers Weekly

Suspenseful, thought provoking, mystical, and haunting. Keene’s confident writing doesn’t aim for easy description or evaluation; it approaches (and defies) literature on its own terms.

Publishers Weekly

Annotations moves jaggedly, lightninglike, with speed and with wrought metonymic aplomb. It conduces to quick reaches of insight and accretion, unexpected lyric heft, quick elliptic dilation. In this book which achieves moment and range well beyond what its relative brevity leads one to expect, John Keene makes an auspicious debut.

Nathaniel Mackey

When I first read John Keene’s fiction, almost a decade ago at Harvard, I knew immediately that I was in the presence of genius. With his work Annotations, Mr. Keene, after years of woodshedding and apprenticeships, has fulfilled that early promise. These poetic meditations about private lives and public events are brilliant, polished and of considerable depth.

Ishmael Reed
Scroll to Top of Page