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Kirby Gann

Kirby Gann

On the streets of the Highlands neighborhood and the soccer fields of Central High School in Louisville, Kirby Gann began gathering the early experiences that would later inspire his imaginative, compelling, and hyper-realistic fiction. Though he considers the enjoyment he found writing in school a fundamental element of his youth, it was his success as an athlete that eventually brought him to Transylvania University in Lexington at the age of 18. During his junior year, with the soccer season coming to an end, he enrolled in a creative writing course and suddenly encountered a new fascination with the world of South African and Eastern European literature.

After periods living in New York, working as a bike messenger in Washington, DC, and traveling in France, Gann found himself back in Louisville, sharing a downtown apartment, working at a local bar, and continuing his attempts to complete and publish his first novel. While working on what he considers his first novel, a still-unpublished manuscript about living abroad called Out in the World, he took the suggestion of a fellow writer to explore more autobiographical approaches to developing his fiction. He began examining two major events in his childhood—the tornado that hit Louisville on April 3, 1974 and an accident in which his father was hit by a train—and subsequently shaped those experiences and his memories into his first published novel, The Barbarian Parade. His second novel, Our Napoleon in Rags, draws heavily on his experiences as a bartender. Set in a fictional version of Old Louisville, it features the exploits of Haycraft Keebler, an amalgamation of several personalities commonly encountered at the bar.

Editor and Writer

For the last 10 years, Gann has also worked as managing editor for Sarabande Books, a nonprofit publishing company that focuses on collections of poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. He teaches for the MFA program at Spalding University, working with three to five students per semester. Gann is also writing a new novel about two brothers, loosely based on his own brother’s battle with leukemia, the disillusionment that comes with losing a loved one, and the ways in which such a loss impacts our perceptions of reality.

Gann follows a strict schedule and work method for his writing. He wakes up at 6:00 am, makes coffee, writes from 6:30 to 9:30, and then works at the publishing company until the evening. “To write a novel you have to touch it every day. And keep it going in your conscience. Another way I work—I never have a clear vision. It’s what I do along the way.”

The ideal writer’s life, Gann says, would be that of a hermit or monk, and so he and his wife tend to maintain a quiet domestic life in their Louisville home. But his mind is constantly active, absorbing new information, observing new conversations and potential plots and characters, and re-examining the past experiences that give his fiction its rich sense of realism. Drawn to the conflicts and troubles of everyday life, Gann often peers into the shadowy parts of our world while casting characters that consistently look up to the emergent starlight for hope and guidance.