Harvey, Kenneth J. (Joseph Thomas)

Kenneth J. Harvey, short-story writer, novelist, poet (born at St John's, Nfld, 22 January 1962). One of Newfoundland's most prolific and unique writers, Kenneth J. Harvey has mined the morbid and the macabre to produce more than 15 books since 1990. He has served as the writer-in-residence at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of New Brunswick, but always returns to his Newfoundland outport home, Burnt Head, Cupids. Harvey is the co-founder of the ReLit Awards, which promotes books published by independent Canadian publishers.

Kenneth J. Harvey's first collection of short stories, Directions for an Opened Body (1990), was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and established the writer as an unflinching examiner of the extreme. The stories deal with suicide, madness, and violence, yet the balanced depiction of humanity amidst the grotesque marks much of Harvey's subsequent work. His first novel, Brud (1992), follows the titular "kind-hearted simpleton" as he innocently ventures into the evils of urban life. Brud was shortlisted for the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Harvey produced a wide array of books in the following years, including a volume of poetry, Kill the Poets (1995); Skinhound (2000), a novel focused on a St John's-based serial killer who skins his victims; and a biography entitled Little White Squaw: A White Woman's Story of Abuse, Addiction, and Reconciliation (2002).

Kenneth J. Harvey's most recent novels have garnered him great critical and commercial success. The Town That Forgot How to Breathe (2003) won Italy's Libro del Mere and the Thomas Head Raddall Award. The novel, based in the Newfoundland outport of Bareneed, follows many of the conventions of a Stephen King horror story while delivering a serious criticism of and heartfelt lament for Newfoundland culture. The occupants of this community are simultaneously losing their ability to breathe on their own. This mysterious malady is compounded with the appearance of ghosts and the washing ashore of fantastical and symbolic creatures from Newfoundland's actual and mythic past. A cleverly placed thriller, the novel also examines a culture that is being relegated to the past.

In 2006 Kenneth J. Harvey produced one of his best novels, Inside, which won the Winterset Award and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Inside revolves around Myrden, a man recently released from prison into the urban jungle of St John's. Abrupt, clipped sentences elevate Myrden's desperate attempt to reclaim his life, protect his family, and avenge himself against those who falsely accused him. Trolling the mean streets of St John's, Kenneth J. Harvey presents an alternative and decidedly dark version of Newfoundland.