Photo Credit: Erica McClendon-Walker
Kalisha Buckhanon is a reader, writer, teacher, activist, literature student, daughter, granddaughter, aunt, sister, vegetarian, yoga practitioner, creative spirit, humbled spirit and budding actress. She was born in Kankakee, IL in 1977. The eldest daughter of Kerry and Juwana Buckhanon, she grew up surrounded by a large family and attending public schools throughout Kankakee School District 111. A product of public schools, teenaged parents, and at times old time religion, she takes as her primary subject matter the lives, struggles and triumphs of everyday working and lower-class African-Americans. At 18 she moved to the Hyde Park area of Chicago, where she now resides, to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. She became an Andrew Mellon/Mays Minority Undergraduate Fellow in 1997, researching Black women's literature and film under the guidance of University of Chicago professors Kenneth Warren, Jacqueline Stewart and Deborah Nelson. A magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate, she took her Masters Degree in English Language and Literature there as well in December of 2007. She also holds a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from New School University in New York City.
Her first novel, Upstate, won the 2006 American Library Association ALEX Award and was nominated for a 2006 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award in Debut Fiction. The Upstate Audio production won the 2006 Audie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literary Fiction. The novel was published in the UK and France. Her second novel, Conception, was released from St. Martin's Press in early 2008. Terry McMillan selected her to receive the Terry McMillan Young Author Award at the 2006 National Book Club Conference, and she was named one of Essence Magazine's 'Three Writers to Watch' in 2005. She won a 2001 Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship in Prose for an unpublished historical novel entitled The Junction.
Her short fiction and articles have appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review, The London Independent, Black Issues Book Review, the University of Chicago's Otium, Chicago State University's Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, and Black MBA Magazine, where she was an assistant editor from 2002-2003. She won the 2002 Bessie Head/Zora Neale Hurston Fiction Award at the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writer's Conference for her short story 'Card Parties.'
Kalisha has taught literacy, creative writing and the humanities throughout Chicago, New York City her birthplace of Kankakee, Illinois. She has also served as a writing mentor with the PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program, working with previously incarcerated women. She frequently speaks and teaches creative writing workshops throughout the country. She has studied acting and playwriting at such places as the University of Chicago and ETA Creative Arts Foundation, where she has performed and workshopped the one-act Journey to Mecca as well as a play based upon 'Card Parties.' She is currently studying towards a PhD in the English Department at the University of Chicago, with a focus on mid-20th century Black women's literature and culture. Visit her at www.Kalisha.com.
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Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (February 5, 2008)
"...Conception remains the work of a gifted young novelist struggling to weld together the various metals of her experience." 'Reviewed by Kim McLarin for the Washington Post
In the same vein of Kalisha Buckhanon's critically-acclaimed debut novel Upstate, again she shares an emotionally beautiful story about today's youth that magnifies the unforgettable power of hope and the human spirit.
Buckhanon takes us to Chicago, 1992, and into the life of fifteen-year-old Shivana Montgomery, who believes all Black women wind up the same: single and raising children alone, like her mother. Until the sudden visit of her beautiful and free-spirited Aunt Jewel, Shivana spends her days desperately struggling to understand life and the growing pains of her environment. When she accidentally becomes pregnant by an older man and must decide what to do, she begins a journey towards adulthood with only a mysterious voice inside to guide her. When she falls in love with Rasul, a teenager with problems of his own, together they fight to rise above their circumstances and move toward a more positive future. Through the voice of the unborn child and a narrative sweeping from slavery onward, Buckhanon narrates Shivana's connection to a past history of Black women who found themselves at the mercy of tragic circumstances. All of their fates intertwine towards a shocking conclusion.
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Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (January 10, 2006)
'A literary gem. Upstate is a stunning debut. Completely unforgettable.' 'E. Lynn Harris, New York Times bestselling author of Invisible Life and What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
'Wild and beautiful. . .told using the epistolary form with brilliant skill not seen since The Color Purple.' 'Sapphire, national bestselling author of PUSH
"Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?"
So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990's in New York. Antonio and Natasha's world is turned upside down, and their young love is put to the test, when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime. Antonio fights to stay alive on the inside, while on the outside, Natasha faces choices that will change her life. Over the course of a decade, they share a desperate correspondence. Often, they have only each other to turn to as life takes them down separate paths and leaves them wondering if they will ever find their way back together.
Startling, real, and filled with raw emotion, Upstate is an unforgettable coming-of-age story with a message of undeniable hope. Brilliant and profoundly felt, it is destined to speak to a new generation of readers.