I've been writing since before I could write: at age four, I dictated stories to my aunt, and she typed them up and stapled them together. That was my first book. Later I wrote plays. Then poetry. And now I'm publishing prose and photography.
My favorite poets are Wallace Stevens, William Butler Yeats and Federico Garcia Lorca. For prose, my benchmark is the nonfiction published in The New Yorker. My favorite novelists are William Faulkner and Thomas Pynchon in English, Jean Dutourd and Gabriel Chevallier in French and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alejo Carpentier in Spanish.
I was born and raised in Ashland, Kentucky, was admitted to the Honors Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and majored in English and minored in political science and Spanish. I was awarded two Hopwood creative writing awards in drama. The recipient of a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, I attended graduate school at Stanford University and studied at St. Lawrence University under a National Defense Education Act scholarship.
BIOGRAPHY, TRAVEL, ESSAYS
MONVILLE: FORGOTTEN LUMINARY OF THE FRENCH ENLIGHTENMENT
François Racine de Monville (1734-1797) was a quintessential representative of the French Enlightenment. A wealthy aristocrat, he was a virtuoso musician on the flute and harp, the best archer in France, an epicurean whose expertise rivaled that of Brillat-Savarin and an architect who designed his Paris townhouse and his country estate, the Désert de Retz at Chambourcy, west of Paris. Its unique Column House was considered "the most interesting building of the eighteenth century" and captivated Thomas Jefferson when he saw it in 1786.
The pages of this book are populated with Monville's friends and acquaintances. The reader will discover princes and paupers, playwrights and prostitutes, philosophers and pirates, ambassadors and actresses, feminists and Freemasons. The author also focuses on the Americans living in Paris at the end of the 18th century, including four future presidents of the United States, who traveled in the circles Monville frequented.
The text is enhanced with three engravings of the Désert de Retz by Constant Bourgeois originally published in 1808, over a hundred footnotes, an extensive bibliography and an eight-page index. A hitherto unpublished poem by Beaumarchais dedicated to Monville is included in an appendix.
A WINTER IN THE MIDDLE OF TWO SEAS: REAL STORES FROM BAHRAIN
This book was written during and after my four-month stay in the Middle Eastern island kingdom of Bahrain. In a wide-ranging series of vignettes and anecdotes, I take the reader from the temples and towns of the 5,000-year old Dilmun civilization to the glitz of twenty-first century shopping malls.
I offer vivid descriptions of sanguinary religious rites, the tribulations of haggling with a taxi driver whose fare has to be paid in three different currencies and my body clock's disorientation from dealing with three different weekends.
While not a guidebook, A Winter in the Middle of Two Seas is a meticulously-researched primer for anyone visiting or working in Bahrain or the armchair traveler who wants to learn more about current events in the Middle East than what appears in the mainstream media.
In the last chapter of the book, entitled "The Truth about Bahrain," I attempt to set the record straight by placing the current events in Bahrain in their historical, geopolitical and religious context.
STATUES OF LIBERTY: REAL STORIES FROM FRANCE
Statues of Liberty derives its title from the fact that there are at least four of these monuments in Paris, as well as dozens scattered all over the world, all inspired by Bartholdi's original that stands proudly in New York Harbor.
Statues of Liberty is a collection of essays written over a period of years documenting the author's experiences and discoveries in France Ranging from the trials and tribulations of a retired American renting an apartment from a dishonest landlady to visits to trade shows and food fairs to walks in the picturesque French countryside and the street artist Space Invader. The author's observations are always perceptive and insightful.
Inspired by Janet Flanner's "Letters from Paris" published in the New Yorker under the pen name Genêt, the author--who is fluent in French--reveals insights into France and the French that escape more casual observers. While not intended to be a guidebook, Statues of Liberty: Real Stories from France will interest anyone who lives in France or is planning a trip to the world's most popular tourist destination.
FLORIDIANS: REAL STORIES FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE
“Curiosity and intelligence run deep in Ronald W. Kenyon’s writing. He’s a tireless world traveler with a real knack for looking at wherever he is and finding reasons to be fascinated by it.” Frank Cerabino, columnist, The Palm Beach Post.
The cast of characters in these seventeen stories of fascinating Floridians includes the living and the dead, the famous and the infamous—murderers, imposters, royal pretenders, a supermarket cashier, a housekeeper, a homeless former crack addict rescued by an anonymous benefactor, the woman who was elected chief of the Seminoles, a Jordanian Cordon Bleu chef, a chess champion who founded a city and the first two Jewish senators. Even John Lennon makes an appearance.
A road trip across the state results in the shocking revelation that, in the 1920’s, Seminole children were prohibited from attending either “white” or “colored” schools, but ends with an unexpected surprise: the Seminole Tribe of Florida, grown wealthy by the profits of its casinos, now owns the worldwide Hard Rock Café chain
Some of the essays involved extensive research, often sparked by an apparently trivial observation; thus the story of the phony count and the fake countess begins when I noticed a sign with an inappropriate ampersand and leaps around the world to France, the former Belgian Congo, Yemen, the Emirate of Sharjah and Tangier.
The people in this book are Floridians, all, and some were even born in the Sunshine State. Yet most are transplants like me, native-born Americans migrating from elsewhere in the United States or immigrants fleeing Hitler’s Germany, Castro’s Cuba and the poverty of Guatemala. Each of them—each of us—possesses Real Stories to tell, and in this book the reader will discover some of them.
ON THE TRAIL IN FRANCE
Many tourists who visit Paris wish they could discover the real France, the hidden France they have read about in novels and seen in paintings at museums. They would like to visit charming villages, meet "real" French people and savor traditional French cuisine. But how to do it? And, for that matter, does this authentic France still exist? That real France, la France profonde, does exist. Having lived for many years in Paris and speaking fluent French, I know the country well. I love France and the French people and have written this book to share what I have learned. You can follow along as I describe my walks on sections of the 180,000-kilometer network of blazed trails crisscrossing France.
In the first nine chapters of this book I recount the experiences I have had walking in nine very distinct regions of France. Individual chapters are devoted to Auvergne, Finistère--the westernmost part of Brittany, Alsace, the Cévennes Mountains, Provence, Rouergue, the Loire Valley, Emblavez and a section of the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela--the Way of Saint James.
Much of On the Trail in France is devoted to unexpectedly encountering total strangers, enjoying French food and wine, appreciating nature in all its beauty and fury and exploring the French--and other--languages.
I met many unforgettable characters, young and old, named and nameless. Elderly raconteurs in Auvergne and Provence. A saucy waitress in Alsace. Precocious children in Finistère and Provence. A Schoolmaster who wanted American pen-pals for his students. A bilingual lady novelist in the Gare de l'Est. Monsieur Prouff, always showing up in a different guise. A modern troubadour. Savvy businesswomen and sleepy soldiers. Students and chefs. Goatherds and dopers. A publican who was a painter. Winemakers and snail wranglers. A phony artist. Penniless pilgrims. They all pass through these pages. And I even had a brief encounter with a serial killer--without learning of his crimes until a year afterwards.
It is almost impossible to write about France without writing about food, and it is through food that we may acquire an understanding of the elusive French character that both intrigues and thwarts us. It is through food that we may grasp the meaning of one of the defining characteristics of France, the mysterious notion of terroir, which I translate as "the soul of the soil." During my walks I ate peasant fare at rough-hewn tables and gourmet cuisine in elegant dining rooms. Steaks and game. Morels and bilberries. Snails and skate. Jerusalem artichokes. Dishes with exotic names: pounti, far, bäckeofe, kouign aman, landjäger, pommes tapées. And who can know France without knowing her cheeses? I savored Munster and Pélardons and Cabicous, tommes and fourmes and pavés.
I drank lambic apple brandy in Finistère and neya sussa wine less than a week old in Alsace. A beer brewed from buckwheat. I even tracked down a wine called Clinton.
Visitors may be surprised at the diversity of languages, dialects and cultures evoked in these pages. I met people who could shift effortlessly from French into Breton, Alsatian, Occitan or Provençal. I even discovered one of the world's least-known languages, Welche, that has nothing to do with Wales.
On the Trail in France is a welcome guide for anyone in good health who practices recreational walking and desires to learn more about France and the French. It is my hope that these chapters will not only entertain and inform but encourage readers to venture off the beaten track to discover the human and natural treasures awaiting them. To start you on your way, I have included a compendium of practical information in a separate chapter entitled "Your Walk on the Trail in France."
As an additional enticement, I have included more than forty photographs illustrating some of the sights I saw...on the trail in France.
LE PETIT KENYON: DINING IN THE ENVIRONS OF PARIS FOR WALKERS
Le Petit Kenyon was written for people who live in or near Paris and like both walking and dining. It is a compilation of twenty-nine recommended restaurants and inns in twenty-five towns in the Île-de-France region, except for four just across the line in Picardy to the north and one in Gâtinais to the south. All are within a short distance of a train station—some are across the street—the most distant is a forty-minute walk downhill.
The restaurants are organized according to the town in which they are located, in alphabetical order. For each, I have provided the distance from Paris to the station closest to each restaurant as well as its address and telephone number.
Most of the Paris hiking clubs organize day-long hikes, broken by a pause-picnic. This guide is based on an entirely different concept, the rando+déjeuner, in which walkers can enjoy both a country walk and a sit-down lunch before returning to Paris.
Most of these walks are point-to-point, so it’s necessary to take the train. Since the average distance of these restaurants is 50 kilometers from Paris and some are as far as 90 kilometers away, it’s necessary to catch an early train—one that leaves between 7:00 and 8:30 AM. Arriving at the destination no later than 9:30 affords up to four hours walking before lunch. It’s also necessary to call the restaurant beforehand to make sure it’s open for lunch and to reserve a table. Many are small and cater to a local clientele, so they fill up fast. Several have changed management or closed since the original review was written; this has been duly noted. New owners may be better or worse than their predecessors, and there’s always the hope that the restaurants that have closed will reopen.
DIVAGATIONS: COLLECTED POETRY 1959-1996
The seventy-eight poems in this collection--from four lines to six pages in length--were composed over a period of almost forty years and can be considered episodes of a memoir, an autobiography in verse documenting the author's life, loves and travels.
The dictionary defines "divagation" as a wandering or a digression. Therefore, many of the poems in this collection evoke the author's voyages that have taken him to forty-seven countries around the world.
Divagations is also a virtual handbook of poetic forms ranging from the elegance of the Spenserian Stanza to free verse. There are ballads and ballades, odes and ottava rima, rondels and rondeaux. Like many English-language poets, the author has a fondness for the sonnet; included is a sequence of twenty-four love sonnets. He has also included three sestinas, one in French. A long, narrative poem in blank verse recounts the adventures of one Poor Fisher, who travels to the Caribbean and attempts to establish a new religion with himself as its prophet.
The forty-three found portraits in this collection are pictures of pictures, taken in the Paris Metro between September 24, 2003, and June 1, 2007, using the built-in camera in a Palm Zire 71 personal digital assistant (PDA).
Some of the persons in the portraits are recognizable; among them are celebrities living and dead, some named and some nameless. Basketball player Tony Parker's portrait appears as well as that of Marilyn Monroe. Three French film stars, Lætitia Casta, Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci, share a triptych. Pierre-Auguste Renoir's wife and model Aline Charigot, Alphonsine Fournaise, the actress Angèle and the Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte populate a four-panel polyptych. The Chevalier de Saint George, an 18th century composer and equestrian, appears, as well as the Lady of the Unicorn from the medieval tapestry. Superman's here too, and so is the late Jean Gabin.
Some of the portraits are anonymous. Everyone is free to guess who's who.
The photographs in this book are for the most part found art--pictures of pictures--taken in the Paris Metro between 2004 and 2012.
The works are divided into three categories. The first section, Tears, consists of texts or images that are deformed, truncated or deconstructed to such an extent that they become ambiguous, incomprehensible or totally abstract compositions of color and form.
The section entitled Read consists of texts that are mostly comprehensible but contain an emotional, playful or intellectual element. One example is "Shopping & F*****g," which is shocking for English-speakers but innocuous to other ears: F*****g is the name of a wine-producing village in Austria.
In the section entitled Converse are photographs where graffiti serve as commentary--often ironic, political or even scatological--and are juxtaposed to advertising copy. A good example is the panoramic triptych entitled "Etat de Démence," which is overwritten with a text that translates as "State of Dementia."
MY BEAUTIFUL FRANCE: LANDSCAPES
The greatest influences on my photography have been painters. Historically, the earliest influences derive from the landscape painters of the Barbizon School such as Corot, Daubigny and Théodore Rousseau who, in the mid-19th century, dared to move their easels outdoors and, along with Eugène Boudin, were precursors of Impressionism. Next come the Impressionists themselves, notably Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Pissarro, who produced a large corpus of landscapes.
The landscapes in this book are most directly influenced by Impressionism and abstract expressionism.
Among the photographers who have influenced Kenyon’s work are André Martin in France who created impressionistic landscapes using super telephoto lenses, the Italian Luigi Ghirri—a master of composition—and Americans such as Walker Evans and William Eggleston.
Instead of just glancing at the pictures in this book, the photographer asks you to interact with them. Wonder where they were taken, the season, the time of day, the temperature, why he composed the picture in such a way or why he decided that a particular subject was worthy of capturing permanently.
Most important of all, was a picture pleasing to look at and, if so, why?
FRANCE IMAGES & MESSAGES
France Images & Messages, une nouvelle collection de photographies en couleurs, est une expansion à la fois en taille et en portée de Metro Portraits et Metro Messages, publiés en 2012. Contrairement à la disposition horizontale, le format carré de ce livre facilite la publication de clichés verticaux et panoramiques. Les images ont été réalisées en France entre 1998 et 2015, avec plusieurs appareils photographiques : argentiques et numériques.
Ce recueil se compose de sept groupes de clichés ainsi que d'un polyptyque et d’un envoi. Aux portraits, graffitis et art trouvé des affiches déconstruites comme dans les albums précédents, s’ajoutent des photos de plaques de rue, de portes, de fenêtres et des hommages à des artistes de rue français. Cette collection de photographies dépeint une France ambiguë, absurde et éphémère, pleine d'humour et parfois mélancolique. Annotations et traductions anglaises en annexe.
France Images & Messages, a new collection of color photographs, is an expansion both in size and scope of Metro Portraits and Metro Messages, published in 2012. Instead of the horizontal layout, the square size of this book facilitates the inclusion of vertical and panoramic photographs. The pictures were taken in France between 1998 and 2015 with both film and digital cameras.
The collection is composed of seven groups of illustrations as well as a polyptych and an envoi. In addition to portraits, graffiti and found art from deconstructed posters as documented in the previous albums, there are sections illustrating street signs, doors and windows and tributes to French street artists. The photographs in the collection portray a France that is ambiguous, absurd and ephemeral—and often wistful and humorous. English translations and annotations included in an appendix.
LIVRES EN FRANCAIS
MONVILLE: L’INCONNU DES LUMIERES
François Nicolas Henri Racine de Monville (1734-1797) incarna à la perfection le gentilhomme du Siècle des Lumières : musicien virtuose, sportif et bon vivant, il était aussi un architecte visionnaire dont la « colonne détruite » dans le Désert de Retz à Chambourcy, a été décrit par l'historien d'art Ernest Ganay comme « le bâtiment le plus intéressant du 18e siècle ».
Dans les pages de ce livre, le lecteur découvrira :
• Les relations de M. de Monville dont Beaumarchais, qui a écrit un hommage poétique à son ami, publié dans ce livre pour la première fois
• Les descendants de sa sœur, y compris une princesse monégasque guillotinée
• Son banquier, Perregaux, seul Suisse qui repose au Panthéon
• Jean-Pierre Blanchard, un pionnier de l'aviation française, qui a effectué ses premières expériences au Désert de Retz
• Un témoignage de l'incarcération de M. de Monville pendant la Terreur.
Cette biographie intègre à peu près tout qu’on connait actuellement de la vie de M. de Monville et incorpore des informations et des anecdotes puisées dans des ouvrages épuisés depuis plus d'un siècle.
L’auteur a voulu tracer un portrait de M. de Monville, tout en le situant dans le contexte politique, social et artistique de cette période riche en expériences et découvertes. Cet ouvrage séduira les lecteurs curieux de l’histoire de la France et des êtres qui l’ont marquée.
ÎLE-DE-FRANCE, TERRES D'INSPIRATION
L’Île-de-France est belle et surprenante et le regard que porte le photographe américain Ronald W. Kenyon sur cette région vient nous en apporter une bien jolie preuve… Lorsqu’on pense à l’Île-de-France, on imagine d’abord la ville, la banlieue, les routes, le béton… mais rarement la nature. Pourtant, près des deux tiers de cette région sont des espaces naturels ou des terres agricoles… autant de paysages qui ont autrefois inspiré des peintes, parmi les plus célèbres. Alors, n’attendez plus pour partir à la rencontre de ce formidable patrimoine naturel, à travers cet ouvrage, mais également au grès des nombreux sentiers de randonnée qui s’offrent à vous. De belles découvertes et émotions en perspective…