Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Owen John Keehnen  

Pen Name: Owen Keehnen

Genre: Fiction History

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1960 in Rockford, IL

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Illinois Connection

Owen Keehnen was born in Rockford Illinois, went to college in Quincy (Quincy University, 1983), and currently resides in Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

Writer and historian Owen Keehnen’s fiction, essays, erotica, reviews, and interviews have appeared in hundreds of magazines and anthologies worldwide, including the upcoming ''Windy City Queer'' from University of Wisconsin Press. He is the co-author (along with Tracy Baim) of ''Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow'' as well as the James Flint biography ''The Boy From Peoria''. Keehnen is the author of the horror novel ''Doorway Unto Darkness'' and the humorous gay novel ''I May Not Be Much But I’m All I Think About'' ( Over 100 of his interviews with various authors LGBTQ authors and activists from the 1990s have been collected in the book ''We’re Here, We’re Queer'' which chronicles the evolution of the modern gay movement. He is also co-editor of Nothing ''Personal: Chronicles of Chicago’s LGBTQ Community 1977–1997'' (Firetrap Press, 2009) and contributed 10 of the biographical essays in the groundbreaking coffee-table book ''Out and Proud in Chicago'' (Surrey/Agate, 2008).Keehnen was on the founding committee of [ ''The Legacy Project''] and currently serves as secretary for the LGBT history-education-arts program focused on pride, acceptance, and bringing proper recognition to the courageous lives and contributions of international LGBTQ historical figures. He is the former programming director for Gerber/Hart Library and has had two queer monologues adapted for the stage. He has written regular columns in such magazines as ''Penthouse Forum'' and ''Men’s Style'' and was author of the ''Starz'' books, a four-volume series of interviews with gay porn stars. He was co-editor of the ''Windy City Times Pride Literary Supplement'' for several years and continues working periodically as a features writer for the newspaper. He lives in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood and was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2011.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Doorway Unto Darkness
ISBN: 1892076756

Dancing Moon Press. 2012

Doorway Unto Darkness is a psychological slaughterhouse of horror. A grisly and darkly comic tale of possession, murder and vengeance that transcends time. It is the ultimate tale of identity theft. This is the story of Michael Rogers, whose dull life grows suddenly complicated when a spirit - Mel, a merciless killer - takes up residence in his body. After each carnage, Mel vanishes and Michael returns to face the grisly scene. Told in journal format, the novel traces Michael's mental and moral deterioration. His world is one of confusion and dread. As the plot unfolds and the body count rises, clues emerge that reveal Michael's ancestral history with Mel. Doorway Unto Darkness is a gripping, brutal, gore-choked read that is sure to have you looking over your shoulder, checking the locks on the doors, and looking a bit closer in the mirror....

Jim Flint: The Boy From Peoria
ISBN: 146639840X

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2011

Available in both black-and-white and color editions. Meet Jim Flint, known to many as Felicia—a truly remarkable man who has done some truly remarkable things. Raised in Peoria, Illinois, Flint was a precocious kid who “shined shoes” for older gentlemen at age 8 and joined the Navy at 17. He was a serviceman with a distinguished record who dreamed of becoming a missionary brother, yet only months later became one of the most popular gay bartenders in Chicago. Before long, he was stopping traffic on Clark Street as a roller-skating, baton-twirling drag queen, eager to garner attention for his now-legendary female impersonation bar, the Baton Show Lounge. Running a gay bar in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s meant placating corrupt police and city inspectors eager for bribes, as well as shadowy, silk-suited Mafiosi. In addition to the Baton, in a few scant years Flint was also running a down-and-dirty leather bar and heading a gay motorcycle club. In the process he became a community leader, eventually even running for the Cook County Board as one of Chicago’s first openly gay candidates for public office. Flint also found the time to lay the foundations for a gay sports league. Flint’s story includes dozens of unforgettable characters such as Baton stars Chilli Pepper, Ginger Grant and Mimi Marks, transgender entertainment legends Alexandra Billings and Candis Cayne, and many others who inhabit the spotlights, the dressing rooms, and the evolving world of female impersonation. Flint is also the founder of the celebrated Continental Pageant System. As a witness to and a pioneer in the formation of the modern LGBT community, Flint has attracted memorable people from all walks of life. Meet Richie, the Baton doorman who hurled insults at the customers, Tillie the Dirty Old Lady, a parade of madcap patrons, battling bartender boyfriends, handsome S&M bikers and club kids, sports stars, celebrities, political bigwigs, and gay-rights activists of all descriptions. Unfortunately, domestic violence, serial killers, and drug addictions were some of the dangers in Flint’s circle, and of course the AIDS epidemic ushered in its own storm of drama and deep tragedy. In the midst of all this is Flint himself: energetic, warmhearted and generous, yet quick-tempered and opinionated, always respectful of his flamboyant, ultraglamorous, often emotionally fragile bevy of supertalented performers. Jim Flint: The Boy From Peoria is the colorful story of an amazing man and the LGBT community he helped to shape, as he championed an out-of-the-closet, be-who-you-are lifestyle. Authors Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen unravel the many mysteries of Chicago gay community icon Jim Flint in this provocative new biography.

Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow
ISBN: 1461096022

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2011

Both B&W ($24.99) and full-color ($79.99) editions available. A prominent Chicago gay activist and entrepreneur is the subject of an in-depth biography, Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow, by journalists and authors Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen. The book contains more than 300 images, including murals and drawings by Dom “Etienne” Orejudos, posters for International Mr. Leather (IML), and photos from the Gold Coast, Pride Parades, IML contests, physique magazines and more. The book is published by Prairie Avenue Productions, 414 pages, $24.99 black and white (ISBN 1-46109602-2), $79.99 color (1-46111908-1). It is available on Living as an openly gay man in 1950s Chicago was no easy task. For Chuck Renslow, that was only his first of many bold moves. Just out of high school he began what was to become a six-decade empire, starting more than two dozen businesses in Chicago, as well as a few in other cities. He has owned bars, discos, photo studios, health clubs, bathhouses, gay magazines and newspapers, hotels, restaurants, and bookstores. Throughout it all he dealt with Mafia and police payoffs, anti-gay political policies, harassment from censors, and even controversy within the gay community. In the mid-1950s, after having a portrait and then cheesecake studio, Renslow began experimenting with beefcake photography and began Kris Studio. With his longtime lover, the artist Dom Orejudos aka Etienne and Stephen, at his side, Renslow created Kris Studio a leader in male physique photography, resulting in such magazines as Triumph, Mars and The Rawhide Male, producing thousands of erotic images as well as several films. In 1959 Renslow took over the Gold Coast Show Lounge and transformed it into one of the most lowdown libidinous gay leather bars in the world. With Etienne’s murals adorning the walls, a leather/Western/uniform dress code for patrons, and a dark Pit that featured all sorts of goings-on, the Gold Coast set the standard for raunchy kink and gay sexual liberation. It was the birthplace of motorcycle clubs and sex groups, but above all a place for people to meet, connect, and explore themselves and their sexuality. The Gold Coast was also the birthplace of the first leather contest, which in the span of a few short years evolved beyond the bar’s capacity and became International Mr. Leather in 1979. More than three decades later, it continues to be one of the world’s most popular gay events. Renslow was also one of the pioneers in taking a bathhouse beyond merely the borders of a mere sex club. Man’s Country became something truly unforgettable in the 1970s - a sex-and-entertainment complex with a variety of rooms, shops, and a Music Hall that attracted top names touring in the “K-Y circuit,” from Sally Rand to Wayland Flowers to Rusty Warren and Charles Pierce. Renslow was a dynamic force in Chicago politics under mayors starting with Richard J. Daley, and he ran to be a delegate for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential run. He danced with another man at a 1977 inaugural ball for Jimmy Carter. Renslow helped protest against unfair policies, fought censorship and entrapment, and battled Anita Bryant. He even served as a field contact for the pioneering work at the Kinsey Institute, as well as performing sexual acts for Kinsey researchers. He knew entertainment celebrities from Marlene Dietrich to Rudolf Nureyev, from Divine to Grace Jones, and from Sylvester to Quentin Crisp. In their heyday Chuck Renslow’s annual White Parties were celebrations beyond compare. When Chicago’s gay community faced the loss of its newspaper, Renslow bailed out and ran GayLife. He also co-founded the Leather Archives & Museum (with Tony DeBlase). Through it all Renslow has also been Daddy of the Family, a unique created group of lovers, tricks, and friends who were bound by sex and oftentimes love and by a goal of providing comfort and support to one another.

We're Here, We're Queer
ISBN: 1463606214

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2011

We’re Here We’re Queer contains over 100 interviews with activists, artists, writers, and others who helped lay the groundwork for the current LGBTQ world. Primarily conducted in the 1990s these chats with some of the defining members of the community provide an excellent window onto the world during this tumultuous and pivotal stage of our history. Included in this collection are conversations with Quentin Crisp, Edmund White, Samuel Steward, The Daughters of Bilitis, Harry Hay, Dorothy Allison, Dick Sargent, David Wojnarowicz, E. Lynn Harris, Tommy Tune, Joan Nestle, Holly Woodlawn, RuPaul, Sarah Schulman, Paul Monette, Chuck Renslow, Jerry Herman, Sapphire, Susie Bright, Michael Cunningham, Dennis Cooper, Janis Ian, Pam Tent, Jewelle Gomez, Michelangelo Signorile, George Chauncey, Camille Paglia, Scott Heim, Scott O’Hara, and many more.

The Sand Bar
ISBN: 1590210182

Lethe Press. 2012

Welcome to The Sand Bar, the notorious tavern where most gay folks in Bayetteville and the surrounding area get together. Come in through the back door off the alley. The bar is at the end of that long hallway. Pull up a stool and let hunky Cody the bartender get you a beer or mix up one of his famous margaritas. Make yourself comfortable and have a look around. You never know who you re going to meet here. Those punks over by the jukebox are Del and his buddy Slags. Chances are they're up to no good. The kid standing near them is Fred who's had a crush on Del since even before Del started hustling. That redheaded guy at the table by the dance floor is Kevin. He's got a girlfriend waiting for him at home, but lately he and Cody have been making eyes at one another. At the end of the bar Jack-O is swaying on his stool and going on to Heather who's killing time waiting for her latest lady friend to get off work at the mall. Sitting alongside them looking like a cardinal sin in that skin tight black dress is Bruschetta. She's nice enough, but don t cross her. The pock-marked guy down at the other end of the bar sucking on a longneck is Leo. He owns this place and lives upstairs. He opened The Sand Bar after being convinced the town needed a gay bar by his best friend Sister who's the one in the flannel shirt with one boot on the bar rail waiting his turn at pool. Make yourself comfortable and stay a while. What's being offered is a glimpse inside the intertwined loves, dreams, downfalls and dramas of the these folks as well as several others. Along the way there'll be plenty of sex, some laughs and even some tears. Though it may not be pretty or always nice, The Sand Bar isn't a place you're likely to soon forget and the people who've come to call it home are even more memorable.

Lgbt Book of Days
ISBN: 1925031632

Wilde City Press, LLC. 2013

The LGBT Book of Days is a reference book, a fun trivia compilation, and a tool for further investigation into our rich, colorful-and profoundly challenging-past. Year by year, month by month, day by day, this book chronicles the unforgettable events and incredible lives that have forged our history and made us the strong, brave and proud community we are today. Compiled by gay author and historian Owen Keehnen, this comprehensive and important book has been written in appreciation of those who have come before... And as a reminder to those who will follow.

Young Digby Swank
ISBN: 1925031616

Wilde City Press, LLC. 2013

Meet Young Digby Swank...a gay boy in a very Catholic world. This is his story-from his miraculous birth, his troubled childhood and his quest for popularity, all the way to his dreams of becoming Pope and/or a beauty queen. Follow Digby through Cub Scouts, through his stint as an altar boy, a prankster, an outcast, a cross dresser, a vengeance seeker, a hell-bound sinner, and more. But it's not just Digby you'll meet on this journey! Say hello to Digby's overbearing relatives, a few bullying nuns, some eccentric neighbors, and oh, let's not forget the parish gossips of Running Falls, the small blue collar town in which Digby lives. Yes, meet Digby Swank. A boy searching for love, belonging... and maybe even a halo. Surely those devil horns will help keep it propped up!

Vernita Gray: From Woodstock to the White House
ISBN: 1499388888

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2014

Vernita Gray lived through some of the country’s most riveting civil-rights dramas, as an African American girl from the South Side of Chicago. She came out as a lesbian soon after attending the 1969 Woodstock concert, where she heard about the uprising at the Stonewall gay bar in New York City. Her fight for lesbian equality, and the rights of the entire LGBTQ community, would be her passion for the remaining decades of her life. She was also a poet and a writer, a key player in Chicago’s gay liberation movement, and a lesbian separatist during the 1970s. In the 1980s, she opened her own restaurant, Sol Sands, and in the early 1990s, she began an 18-year career with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Along the way, she also managed to have a lot of fun. Her visits to the White House brought tears to her eyes. She never thought she would see an African-American president, especially from her hometown of Chicago. A few months after attending the Obama selection at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, she attended his inauguration and related parties in D.C. She first went to the White House for a June 2009 Pride reception. Vernita’s struggle with cancer would soon take a turn for the worse, and in her final years, her passion was used to fight for both at-risk LGBTQ youth as well as marriage equality in Illinois. In this new book by Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen, friends, partners and family share their memories of Vernita. Primarily written before Vernita’s death in March 2014, the book also includes extensive interviews with Vernita, and her own poetry. Vernita loved long and deeply, she worked against racism, sexism and homophobia, and she did it all with a smile, dancing her way to victory on her last lap. Available in color on Kindle and CreateSpace.

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)

Currently Owen Keehnen is helping to chronicle LGBTQ history in Chicago and is hard at work on the life story of Chicago activist and entrepreneur Jim Flint (''The Boy From Peoria'', Prairie Avenue Productions, 2011)

as well as finishing edits on his latest novel ''The Sand Bar'' (Lethe Press, 2011)