York professor garners international attention for two forthcoming books

Patricia Keeney
Patricia Keeney

Two forthcoming books by Patricia Keeney, professor of creative writing and English at York University, have garnered international attention.

The first book is Keeney’s new take on classical material called Orpheus in our Time, which is based on some of the oldest Greek poetry in existence, pre-dating even the Greek pantheon that informs so much of western culture. The Orphic Hymns – the ancient work that inspired this manuscript – were sung by star-gazers and priests who composed lyrics to the evolution of life in cosmological, philosophical and psychological terms. The hymns take us through the earliest expressions of creation, time and power. As ancient manifestations of natural forces, human psychology and universal ideas, they still connect intimately with us today.

Keeney, the first English language poet to attempt a recreation of these ancient works, has produced modern lyric renderings of them along with contemporary, often humorous response in dialogue from an anonymous “He” and “She” commenting on the core ideas as familiar as love, war, work and health.

Keeney was invited to Athens in June, for preliminary discussions with National Theatre director Gina Kapetanaki, classical actor Rasmy Tsopelas and composer Dimitris Maragopolos regarding a theatrical version of the manuscript. These initiatives have already led to interest from other Greek, Swedish and Canadian theatre professionals.

The second book is a novel, One Man Dancing.

In July, Keeney – also a theatre critic – was invited to the African Theatre Association conference held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to read from the manuscript for her upcoming novel One Man Dancing, built around the life of an actor who worked closely with Robert Serumaga and his legendary Abafumi Theatre Company in Uganda in the 1970s.

During two years of intensive conversation, Charles Tumwisigye shared with Keeney his early experiences in colonial Uganda (including the beginnings of a lifelong passion for drumming and dance), his first meetings with the charismatic Serumaga, the high-profile international tours and the narrow escape from assassination by Amin. After all this, the actor emigrated to Canada, where he was almost destroyed by a monster tornado.

One Man Dancing is a unique story of theatre, political intrigue, heroics the size of myth and ultimate human endurance.

Both books are due for publication next year.