SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

September 29, 2008

Essex County Chronicles: Remembering Manchester's 'literary superstar," Herb Kenny

While he is pretty much forgotten today, even in his own hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Herbert A. Kenny was once one of the region's true literary superstars.

During his lifetime, Kenny (1913-2002) was renowned in Greater Boston literary circles as a reporter, critic, author of both prose and poetry, and storyteller. He was hired by the Boston Post shortly after his graduation from Boston College in 1934 and worked for the paper until its demise in 1957. The next two decades Kenny spent at the Boston Globe where he served as a reporter, editorial writer, and book editor.

During that same period Kenny began carving out a reputation as a man of letters. He would eventually write 13 books, including three volumes of poetry, and in 1956 was chosen by Robert Frost as the winner of the prestigious Robert Frost Fellowship. A magnet for other writers and a born organizer, Kenny was also the founder of the successful Boston Globe Book Festival and a co-founder of the National Book Critics Circle.

Kenny was of Irish Catholic descent and never forgot his roots. Included in his literary oeuvre are "A Catholic Quiz Book" (1947) and "Sonnets on the Virgin Mary: A Marian Year" (1957). Kenny also penned "Literary Dublin: A History" (1974) and a novel, written when he was 86 years old, entitled "Paddy Madigan: An Irish Idyll."

But the Manchester-by-the-Sea "Renaissance man" could never be accused of being parochial. Kenny also authored a book on the arts in Israel and was a Dante scholar. He and his friend Alfred Mansfield Brooks, a Gloucester art historian and long-time president of the Cape Ann Historical Association, both spoke fluent Italian and made a study of the noted poet. Kenny translated Dante's "The Divine Comedy" into English and recorded the poem as a book on tape.

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