Kevin John Brockmeier (1972–)
Little Rock (Pulaski County) author Kevin John Brockmeier is an award-winning novelist and short story writer who has been called one of “America’s best practitioners of fabulist fiction.” Brockmeier has received Arkansas’s top literary prizes (the Porter Fund Award for Literary Excellence and the Worthen Prize) and has been recognized nationally with numerous awards, including three O. Henry prizes, for his masterful use of figurative language in stories that combine reality and fantasy.
Kevin Brockmeier was born on December 6, 1972, in Hialeah, Florida. His father, Jack Brockmeier, was an insurance agent, and his mother, Sally Brockmeier, was a legal secretary. His father was transferred to Little Rock, and so the family, including his younger brother Jeff, moved to Arkansas in 1976.
Brockmeier’s vivid imagination and gifts in the language arts were perceptible throughout his childhood and early school years. He spoke in full sentences by the age of two and was writing mysteries by age eight. The oldest such story in his possession is the “The Case of the Missing Eric Carter,” which reflects his favorite early writing theme: solving the disappearance of his classmates. In interviews, he has described himself as a daydreamer and a child who was always busy inventing stories and games. He was an avid reader of comic and science fiction/fantasy books. His first purchase from his nickel-a-week allowance was a Fantastic Four comic book, which foreshadowed his later book-collecting passion.
In his early teens, Brockmeier had an interest in theater and attended Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School, where he performed in plays and participated in speech and drama tournaments. He achieved the Eagle Scout rank during his sophomore year. After graduating with honors from high school in 1991, he attended Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) in Springfield on a full scholarship. Brockmeier earned his BA in 1995 with an interdisciplinary major in creative writing, philosophy, and theater. During college, his interest in theater waned, while his passion for writing grew. He studied in Ireland for a year and, during that time, read widely in the field of contemporary literary fiction, discovering works that solidified his desire to write for a living.
After college, Brockmeier attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop program at the University of Iowa, studying under such names as Frank Conroy and Marilynn Robinson, and graduated in 1997 with an MFA degree. Brockmeier returned to Little Rock and taught composition and creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and Pulaski Technical College (now University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College). He also worked for his mother’s property management business.
Brockmeier started his publishing career in 1997. “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstitskin,” a short story, showcased his “perfect ear for the cadences of language” and highlighted his ability to skirt the boundaries between literary and fantastic/non-realistic fiction. In this imaginative work, a cleaved Rumpelstitskin fills his day by working, shopping, and contemplating a Mad-Libs letter from his other half. Before he falls asleep, he realizes “…that sometimes what’s missing isn’t somebody else.” The story won the Italo Calvino Short Fiction Award.
Brockmeier’s short stories have appeared in many publications since then, including The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Georgia Review, and The Carolina Quarterly. His work often incorporates “a sly, playful approach to elements of structure and plot,” and critics have noted his “emotional eloquence”—his talent for delving into the heart of his characters. Many of these stories have also garnered prestigious awards, including the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, three O. Henry prizes, and inclusion in The Best American Short Stories series.
In 2002, Things That Fall from the Sky, a collection of short stories, was published, and it included many of these prize-winning stories. Critics called his work “magical” and praised him for his ability to combine “the simplicity of fairy tales with the physical and emotional details of adult lives.” Brockmeier’s first novel, The Truth About Celia, was released in 2003. The novel uses successive stand-alone chapters to weave together the story of a missing child told through the eyes of her bereaved father. Continuing with the themes of memory and loss, Brockmeier’s second novel, The Brief History of the Dead (2005), centers on the relationship between the afterlife and the world of the living. It received wide critical acclaim and is his first work to be published internationally. In 2008, he published the story collection The View from the Seventh Layer, followed in 2011 by the novel The Illumination.
In addition to adult fiction, Brockmeier has also written two children’s novels: City of Names (2002) and Grooves: A Kind of Mystery (2006). The impetus for these books came out of three summers of work he did in a daycare center during his college years; in interviews, he has discussed a continuing interest in writing children’s stories. In 2014, he published his first memoir, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade. Brockmeier served as visiting faculty member of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for the spring 2014 semester. In 2021, his collection The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories was published.
“One of the advantages of working as a writer… is that you don’t have to live anywhere in particular to participate in the strongest currents of your art form,” Brockmeier once said. “As long as you can sit down with a pen and a sheet of paper one minute and with a copy of War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude the next, you’re basically living right at the center of literary culture. When it comes to literature, there’s no such thing as the provinces.”
For additional information:
EarthGoat. “Kevin Brockmeier Interview.” http://earthgoat.blogspot.com/2006/04/kevin-brockmeier-interview.html (accessed February 13, 2017).
Johnson, Scott. “Kevin John Brockmeier.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 5, 2006, p.1D, 5D–6D.
McMyne, Mary. “Turning Inward.” Del Sol Literary Dialogues. http://www.webdelsol.com/Literary_Dialogues/interview-wds-brockmeier.htm (accessed February 13, 2017).
Stephenson, Will. “A Q&A with Kevin Brockmeier on His New Book, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade.” Arkansas Times, April 3, 2014, pp. 38, 48, 50. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/a-qanda-with-kevin-brockmeier-on-his-new-book-a-few-seconds-of-radiant-filmstrip-a-memoir-of-seventh-grade/Content?oid=3257765 (accessed February 13, 2017).
Little Rock, Arkansas
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