Meet Minnesota Writer Dave Kenney, Accidental Historian

Article excerpt

Dave Kenney didn't know much about history. He wasn't a history major in college, or even a minor. In fact, he admits, he did not even have a passing interest in the topic, right up until the minute he started working on his first book, "Northern Lights: The Stories of Minnesota's Past," a high-school textbook that covers Minnesota history from the Ice Age to the present.

And then he found the career he didn't know he'd been looking for, buried in the archives at the History Center.

"I really enjoy digging into dusty old boxes and looking through old documents and finding the pieces that allow me to create a story," says the writer, who by necessity became a rigorous researcher, although he also relies on a team of Minnesota Historical Society historians for insights. "There have been a lot of times when I have felt that what I was doing was almost akin to being a private investigator or an investigative journalist."

That's the direction in which Kenney, who was actually a political science major, originally traveled. He graduated from St. Olaf in the early 1980s and sought a career in TV journalism, working in Virginia, North Carolina, and eventually Atlanta, where he moved out from behind the camera and became a writer for CNN. In 1997, he returned to Minnesota with his family and tried to make a living as a freelance writer.

"I was struggling with that when I heard that the Minnesota Historical Society wanted to put out a revision to their Minnesota History textbook. I showed up at the information meeting, and there were about 40 desperate writers in a room in the basement. To be in the running for the project, they asked us to write, on spec, a full chapter of the book," said Kenney. "I had no other work and was maybe more desperate than most, so I gave it a shot. I 'd never written a book before and had never written about history. But I must have listened well to what they were asking for, and I ended up getting the job."

The book went on to win a Minnesota Book Award and other recognitions, and Kenney is now wrapping up a new revision and accompanying e-book of the history. …

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