Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Kalisha Buckhanon  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1977 in Kankakee, Illinois

-- Website --
-- Kalisha Buckhanon on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Kalisha Buckhanon was born and raised in Kankakee, Illinois, where she was Miss Junior Kankakee 1993 and also served as Class President of her high school for four years. She was an enthusiastic honors student and received the most scholarships in her high school class. She attended the University of Chicago for a bachelors degree in English Language and Literature. She taught humanities at Kankakee Community College in the year her first novel, Upstate, debuted. She returned to the University of Chicago for its PhD program in English Language and Literature in 2006. She achieved a masters degree in English. Her second novel Conception is set on the South Side of Chicago, as well as her third novel Card Parties. She has interviewed and published stories on such notable Chicago cultural residents as tap dancer Ernest "Brownie" Brown, jazz singer Maggie Brown and tap dancer Bril Barrett of MADD Rhythms. She has been an active student and artist with the ETA Creative Arts Founda tion on Chicago's South Side. She has led creative writing workshops or spoken on art and culture at: Harold Washington Public Library, several Chicago Public Libraries, American Library Association's 2005 Annual Conference in Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Chicago State University, Literature For All Of Us, Neighborhood Writing Alliance, Hyde Park's African Festival of the Arts, the ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Kankakee High School, Kankakee Public Library, Oakton Community College in Des Plaines and many Chicago high schools.

Biographical and Professional Information

Kalisha Buckhanon is the author of the novels Upstate, winner of an American Library Association ALEX Award and a Hurston-Wright Foundation Debut Fiction Award finalist; Conception, winner of a Friends of American Writers Literary Fiction Award; and the forthcoming Card Parties, based upon her short story which won a Bessie Head/Zora Neale Hurston Short Fiction Award at the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Literature and Writing Conference.She is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship, an Audio Publishers Association Audie Award in Literary Fiction for the Upstate audiobook, the Terry McMillan Young Author Award at the National Book Club Conference, an Honorable Mention in the Mary Roberts Rinehart Awards at George Mason University and an Andrew Mellon/Mays Foundation Minority Undergraduate Fellowship for humanities research. She is part of the permanent African-American History exhibit of the Kankakee County Historical Society Museum in Illinois for her achievements and cultural contributions to her birthplace of Kankakee, Illinois.Her fiction and essays have appeared in such places as Michigan Quarterly Review, London Independent and Black Issues Book Review. She has taught creative writing, humanities and English through the PEN American Center’s Prison Writing Program, Kankakee Community College and many youth and school programs. Kalisha has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from The New School in New York City, and a B.A. and M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Upstate: A Novel
ISBN: 0312332696

St. Martin's Griffin. 2006

"Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?"

So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990's in New York. Antonio and Natasha's world is turned upside down, and their young love is put to the test, when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime. Antonio fights to stay alive on the inside, while on the outside, Natasha faces choices that will change her life. Over the course of a decade, they share a desperate correspondence. Often, they have only each other to turn to as life takes them down separate paths and leaves them wondering if they will ever find their way back together.

Startling, real, and filled with raw emotion, Upstate is an unforgettable coming-of-age story with a message of undeniable hope. Brilliant and profoundly felt, it is destined to speak to a new generation of readers.

Conception: A Novel
ISBN: 031233270X

St. Martin's Press. 2008

In the same vein of Kalisha Buckhanon’s critically-acclaimed debut novel Upstate, again she shares an emotionally beautiful story about today’s youth that magnifies the unforgettable power of hope and the human spirit.

Buckhanon takes us to Chicago, 1992, and into the life of fifteen-year-old Shivana Montgomery, who believes all Black women wind up the same: single and raising children alone, like her mother. Until the sudden visit of her beautiful and free-spirited Aunt Jewel, Shivana spends her days desperately struggling to understand life and the growing pains of her environment. When she accidentally becomes pregnant by an older man and must decide what to do, she begins a journey towards adulthood with only a mysterious voice inside to guide her. When she falls in love with Rasul, a teenager with problems of his own, together they fight to rise above their circumstances and move toward a more positive future. Through the voice of the unborn child and a narrative sweeping from slavery onward, Buckhanon narrates Shivana’s connection to a past history of Black women who found themselves at the mercy of tragic circumstances.

Solemn: A Novel
ISBN: 1250091594

St. Martin's Press. 2016

Solemn Redvine is a precocious Mississippi girl who senses a nearby baby may be her half-sibling: the outcome of her father's mistakes with a married woman who lives in their trailer park. After Solemn witnesses a man throw the baby down a community well, she struggles to understand the event, leaving her forever changed.

As Solemn finds refuge in fantasies of stardom as well as friendships with her brother's wife and a nearby girl, the ill-fated baby's doomed mother disappears without a trace. Solemn remains trapped by connections to the missing other woman and an honest cop who suspects more to the story than others on the small local police force want to see. When her father's next mistake - a robbery - lands Solemn in a group home for troubled girls, she meets a Chicago delinquent who wants to escape. There, Solemn must face the truth of who she really is and what she is really made of.


  • Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship, ''The Junction, a manuscript''
  • Hurston-Wright Foundation Debut Fiction finalist, ''Upstate, a novel''
  • American Library Association ALEX Award, ''Upstate, a Novel''
  • Friends of American Writers Literary Prize, ''Conception, a novel''
  • Audie Award in Literary Fiction, ''Upstate, an audiobook''

    Speaking Engagements

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