Rediscover: William Melvin Kelley

William Melvin Kelley (1937-2017) was an African American novelist and short story writer who was largely unknown by modern readers until a 2018 New Yorker profile brought him back to popular attention. Kelley was raised in the Bronx and graduated from Harvard University in 1960. His debut novel, A Different Drummer, published in 1962, takes place in a small town in the American South, where the entire Black population destroys their belongings and leaves. His next book was a short story collection, Dancers on the Shore (1964), followed by the novels A Drop of Patience (1965) and dem (1967). After the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Kelley and his wife moved their family to Jamaica and converted to Judaism. His final novel, Dunfords Travels Everywheres (1970), is an experimental work of dystopian fantasy. Kelley claimed to have two additional completed novels yet unpublished in a 2012 interview.

After Kelley's 2018 New Yorker profile, Anchor Books began reissuing all of his work with new cover art by his daughter Jessica. Anchor released the final two of these five new editions in late September: Dancers on the Shore ($16) and Dunfords Travels Everywheres ($16). --Tobias Mutter

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