Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: New Bloomfield, Perry County
Awards: Robert H. Winner Memorial Award, Translation Laureate Award from the Lithuanian Writers Union, DJS Translation Award
Kerry Shawn Keys was born in Harrisburg on June 25, 1946. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in South India, and later received his Master of Arts degree from Indiana University. He has taught at several colleges, including Penn State University and Dickinson College, and started the company Pine Press. His poems and works have been published in several countries.
On June 25, 1946, Elmer Richard Keys, a plumber, and Helen (Kirk) Keys, a clerk and typist, celebrated the birth of their son, Kerry, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Throughout his life, Kerry Keys has lived in racially and culturally diverse areas, and this informs much of his work. Keys’ first wife was Ann Fletcher James Costello. He would later marry and divorce Valdenice “Ziza” dos Reis Almeida, then the archival photographer Džoja Barysaite.
In 1966, Keys dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania to join the United States Peace Corps as an agricultural assistant in South India. He continued this work for two years and then finished his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1970. He received his master's degree in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1973. After graduating, Keys taught at the Mont Alto Campus of Pennsylvania State University. In 1974, he taught at a language laboratory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and worked there for three years.
In 1977, Keys worked as an editor and publisher for Pine Press. While working with Pine Press, he returned to teaching at the Harrisburg Area Community College and Dickinson College, during which time he lived in New Bloomfield. He was a Senior Fulbright Research Fellow in Salvador, Brazil, from 1983-1984. He began working as an English language escort for official visitors to the United States in 1986, a job he continues as of this writing. In 1991 and 1993, Keys worked at the University of Iowa as an International Writing Program member. In 1998, he moved to Vilnius, Lithuania, as a Fulbright Lecturer of Translation Theory and Creative Composition at Vilnius University.
Keys has published over 50 works in several languages such as Czech and Lithuanian, sometimes written under the nickname “Zopi.” His work draws on a childhood spent among the wilds of Appalachia and connecting intimately with nature, selling flowers, and collecting stones. He has hosted a bi-monthly literary salon and been an active member of the Vilnius poetry community. In addition to his poetry, Keys is also a playwright, children’s book author, poetry translator, and contributor to periodicals, including Chiron Review, Milkweed Chronicle, Nation, Northwest Review, Ploughshares, and Prism International.
Keys' passion for his work has earned him several awards, including Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships. The Poetry Society of America also granted him the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award in 1992 for Bones and Buzzards.
At the time of writing, Kerry Keys lives in Vilnius, Lithuania, working as an editor, translator, and performer.
Swallowtails Gather These Stones. Bloomington, IN: Kanchenjunga Press, 1973.