Words of a listening heart: Brendan Kiely participates in Contemporary Writers Series


Story by Yashowanto Ghosh, Staff Writer 
Photo courtesy of Sierra Mason 

Novelist Brendan Kiely read from his latest book, “Tradition,” and spoke at the first event of the 2018–2019 Aquinas College Contemporary Writers Series on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Kiely sketched, in broad strokes, his background and how he started writing. He grew up in Boston as a Catholic boy of Irish heritage. When The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team broke their Pulitzer Prize-winning story of systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by Catholic priests, Kiely’s community was the focus of the scandal. This inspired Kiely’s first novel, “The Gospel of Winter,” which was published just over 10 years later. The book is about a 16-year-old boy who has been abused by his priest and is trying to decide whether to tell anyone or not. Kiely was afraid his own family might react badly to the book, so he gave his grandmother a copy to read before it went on sale. His grandmother’s response to “The Gospel of Winter” was that the book is like “Solomon asking God for a listening heart,” and Kiely has tried to maintain that spirit in all of his work to date.

Kiely also spoke about his next book, “All-American Boys” (2015), which was co-written with the African-American author Jason Reynolds. Following the stories of two boys in the same town — and attending the same school — but one white and one black, the book addresses racial privilege and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Then Kiely introduced his new book, “Tradition … Is Not an Excuse” (2018), which is set in a New England boarding school and focuses on rape culture. The book is narrated by two characters, Jules and Bax, who take turns recounting the same events, giving the reader two perspectives of the plot. Jules is the victim of a sexual assault, and Bax is an athlete who must choose between his friends and the consequences of the actions of his friends. Kiely read the beginning of the novel, and then took questions from the audience for 20 minutes.  

The excerpt Kiely read was powerful, as was the event in general. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh had testified earlier in the day, which added a dimension of immediacy to Kiely’s reading as well.

The next event of the Contemporary Writers Series will bring author and journalist Desiree Cooper to read in the Wege Ballroom at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8.

About the Writer…

Yashowanto GhoshYashowanto Ghosh is a senior with a major in communication and minors in journalism and writing. Jasho is also an alumnus of Aquinas (B.A. German ’11).

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