Biography

Kenneth Wishnia was born in Hanover, NH  to a roving band of traveling academics. He earned a B.A. from Brown University (1982) and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from SUNY Stony Brook (1996). He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Long Island, where he is a professor of English.

Ken’s novels have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity Awards, and have made Best Mystery of the Year lists at Booklist, Library Journal, and The Washington Post. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Murder in Vegas, Long Island Noir, Queens Noir, Politics Noir, Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere.

His most recent novel, The Fifth Servant, was an Indie Notable selection, one of the “Best Jewish Books of 2010” according to the Association of Jewish Libraries, a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award, and winner of a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, a literary prize awarded by the Associazione Donne Ebree d’Italia, the Italian branch of the Women’s International Zionist Organization.

He is married to a wonderful Catholic woman from Ecuador, and they have two children who are completely insane.

“People ask how I got started as a writer, so here goes: One time back in 2nd grade, the teacher told us to write a one-page story for homework and I brought in 15 pages of boyish action/adventure–fueled by some highly improbable plot devices–but also including, in embryonic form, the kind of offbeat humor that I still use today when the situation calls for it (i.e., most of the time). The teacher was so impressed that she typed it up on big people paper, not those lined yellow sheets the kids used. (So thank you, Mrs. Brooks.)

In 3rd grade, we had to write weekly book reports, and I found it much more interesting to invent the authors, titles, and plots rather than read somebody else’s books and report on them. OK, maybe part of it was just plain laziness, but if the teacher knew what I was doing, she never let on. (Thank you, Mrs. Harrison.)

My parents were avid mystery readers and political activists (this was the 1960s), who carried me to my first protest demonstrations. So it was only natural that I would be drawn to socially conscious crime fiction. Decades later I got married and moved to Ecuador, and working with something called a typewriter, I wrote the first draft of 23 Shades of Black. That’s right. My parents are left-wing Jews from Brooklyn, yet I found my literary voice in the form of a Latin Catholic, an outsider with a gritty, hardboiled worldview, tempered by lots of cynical New York humor (wonder where I got that from).

Needless to say, it was hard to find to break into print with this material. The manuscript for my 23 Shades of Black was rejected by agents and editors for nine years, until I gave up on the notion of commercial publication, self-published, and it was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Anthony Award. Which was good, because I was ready to break into a publisher’s offices and start taking hostages.

Marrying a Catholic also got me interested in Judaic studies. (I’ll wait a moment for you to digest that…  OK, ready? Good.  Let’s continue.) It happened like this: A few months before our wedding, I decided that I should learn something about my wife’s culture by reading the New Testament. What followed was something like a reverse-Revelation: I realized that I already knew every significant moment in the Gospels. In fact, I knew parts of the New Testament better than the Old Testament. Clearly, this was unacceptable. I grew up in a secular household where the primary emblems of Jewish culture were bagels and Woody Allen movies–not a bad start, of course, but things had to change. So I spent several years researching and writing The Fifth Servant, a Jewish-themed historical novel set in Prague in the late 16th century. [Warning: this site is not strictly kosher.]

But it all paid off when The Fifth Servant was nominated for two awards, winning a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, an Italian Jewish literary award.

So yeah, I’ve been nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and the Macavity Awards.

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