INDIVIDUAL | Inducted 2011
Owen Keehnen, 51, a writer, interviewer, editor, and activist. His articles have appeared in local and national LGBT newspapers and magazines, and his work includes short stories, novels, and historical essays. He has served on the board of Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library, and a book of his interviews will appear this autumn.
As a writer, interviewer, activist, and historian, Owen Keehnen has helped create and nurture the vibrant cultural landscape of Chicago’s LGBT communities. From 1988 to 2004, he worked at Unabridged Bookstore, where he coordinated the gay men’s reading group and recommended thousands of LGBT titles to readers. Keehnen began interviewing authors, activists, and artists in the darkest part of the AIDS era. He felt compelled to record the LGBT experience of the time with more than 200 interviews. A compilation of more than 100 of his interviews is the basis of his book We’re Here, We’re Queer: The Gay ’90s and Beyond.
Dedicated to the preservation of LGBT history, Keehnen contributed 10 articles to the 2008 book Out and Proud in Chicago and co-edited Nothing Personal: Chronicles of Chicago’s LGBTQ Community 1977–1997, a compilation of the columns of the late Jon-Henri Damski. With Tracy Baim, Keehnen was co-author of two extensive biographies of Chicago LGBT legends, Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow and Jim Flint: The Boy From Peoria. Both works help to preserve and chronicle the rich cultural, social, and political development of Chicago LGBT life from the 1950s to the present.
Keehnen was on the founding committee of The Legacy Project, an organization dedicated to installing bronze plaques along the North Halsted Street corridor to honor notable LGBT historical figures as well as to educate the public. He is the project’s board secretary and wrote many of the nominee biographies on its website. In 2009–10 he served on the board of Gerber/Hart Library and Archives as chair of programming.
Keehnen’s work has been published in newspapers, periodicals, and anthologies worldwide, including The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review and the New York Native, and was often in the iconic gay literary magazine Christopher Street. He was also co-editor of the Windy City Pride Literary Supplement for several years. His novel The Sand Bar will appear in 2012, and his humorous coming-out novel I May Not Be Much But I’m All I Think About is at e-gaymag.com
He served as monitor for several NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt displays, worked as a massage therapist for AIDS Care Chicago, delivered meals for Open Hand Chicago, stocked shelves for its GroceryLand, volunteered for Howard Brown Health Center, was a team captain of the first AIDS Walk in Chicago in 1990, and participated in various ACT UP/Chicago demonstrations.
Owen Keehnen has used his gifts as a writer to help foster LGBT literary culture and preserve the rich LGBT past, and he has used his heart to make life better for those in need.