Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Kathleen Rooney  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: in Beckley, West Virginia

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Illinois Connection

Rooney lives in Chicago and is an assistant professor at DePaul University.

Biographical and Professional Information

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of ''Rose Metal Press'' and a founding member of ''Poems While You Wait''. She has been recognized as one of Newcity Lit's "Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2016." Her work includes poetry as well as both fiction and nonfiction, and has appeared in ''The New York Times Magazine'', ''Allure'', ''Salon'', ''The Rumpus'', and the ''Chicago Tribune''. She has also co-edited the book, ''René Magritte: Selected Writings'' and ''Brevity & Echo: An Anthology of Short Short Stories.''A senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing at DePaul University, she teaches, among other things, a workshop on The Writer as Urban Walker. Kathleen is married to Illinois novelist Martin Seay.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America
ISBN: 1557287821

University of Arkansas Press. 2005

Adored by its fans, deplored by its critics, the Oprah Book Club has been at the center of arguments about cultural authority and literary taste since its inception in 1996. Virtually everyone seems to have an opinion about this monumental institution with its revolutionary and controversial fusion of the literary, the televisual, and the commercial. Reading with Oprah by Kathleen Rooney is the first in-depth look at the phenomenon that is the OBC.

Rooney combines extensive research with a lively personal voice and engaging narrative style to untangle the myths and presuppositions surrounding the club, to reveal its complex and far-reaching cultural influence, confronting head-on how the club became a crucible for the heated clash between “high” and “low” literary taste. Comprehensive and up-to-date, the book features a wide survey of recent commentary, and describes why the club closed in 2002, as well as why it resumed almost a year later in 2003, with a new focus on “great books.” Rooney also provides the most extensive analysis yet of the Oprah Winfrey–Jonathan Franzen contretemps.

Through her close examination of each of the club’s selected novels, as well as personal interviews and correspondence with OBC authors, Rooney demonstrates that in its tumultuous eight-year history the OBC has occupied a place of prominence unique in the culture that neither its supporters nor detractors have previously given it credit for.

That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness
ISBN: 098045414X

Otoliths. 2008

Book by Elisa Gabbert, Kathleen Rooney

Oneiromance (An Epithalamion)
ISBN: 0978617231

Switchback Books. 2008

Poetry. Winner of the 2007 Gatewood Prize, Kathleen Rooney's ONEIROMANCE (AN EPITHALAMION) explores the absurdity and divinity of the marriage ceremony through a dizzying dream sequence with playful verse that skillfully blends call and response with Shakespearean odes, romance and cynicism, story-telling and wordplay. Patty Seyburn proclaims: "These poems contain deep doubt and true sentiment, providing that pleasure-giving union of provocation and renewal." Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (University of Arkansas, 2005).

For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs
ISBN: 1582435456

Counterpoint. 2009

In this collection about life as a twentysomething in the twenty-first century, Kathleen Rooney writes with the finesse of someone well beyond her years, but with fresh insights that reveal a girl still making discoveries at every turn. Varied and original, the tales in For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs recount the perils of falling in love with the unlikeliest of people, of visiting the New York apartments of a vanished poet, and of touring an animal retirement home with her parents. Of getting a Brazilian wax, and of chauffeuring a U.S. senator around town. Of saying good-bye to a cousin who’s joining a convent, and of trying to convince herself that she's not wasting her life. This is a book about love and longing, poetry and plagiarism, death and democracy, mountain floods and Midwestern cicadas. Here is a young woman struggling to find her place as an adult and a citizen in an America that rarely manages to live up to Whitman’s dream of it. With this book, Rooney sings—yes, in fact, she trills—loud and clear.

Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object
ISBN: 1557289492

University of Arkansas Press. 2010

Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object is a lively meditation on the profession of art modeling as it has been practiced in history and as it is practiced today. Kathleen Rooney draws on her own experiences working as an artist's model, as well as the famous, notorious, and mysterious artists and models through the ages. Through a combination of personal perspective, historical anecdote, and witty prose, Live Nude Girl reveals that both the appeal of posing nude for artists and the appeal of drawing the naked figure lie in our deeply human responses to beauty, sex, love, and death.

Robinson Alone
ISBN: 0983700141

Gold Wake Press. 2012

Poetry. "Meet Robinson, the protagonist of Kathleen Rooney's brilliant novel-in-poems ROBINSON ALONE. Conjured up by Weldon Kees and set loose in an urban landscape, Robinson reflects and refracts mid-century American kitsch, optimism, and despair. 'What do you / think the post-war world will be like?' he asks, via Rooney's revisions and erasures of Kees' own letters. Lyrical and detailed, precise and ornate, Rooney's genre-bending text showcases an obsession with literary history. At once repulsed by Midwestern provincialism and fearful of urban excess, 'There's still as much of yesterday / as there is of tomorrow in all he does today.'"—Carol Guess

"Kathleen Rooney is one of the best writers of her still youthful generation. Whether working in memoir, essay, fiction, or verse, she writes in a style that is strikingly original and immediately recognizable for the high-spirited energy of its surface and an undertow of emotion that is sometimes elegiac. Even when part of the art in this book is that of the ventriloquist, both of these qualities can be found in Rooney's Robinson poems, a sustained work based on her long engagement with the poetry of Weldon Kees. Kees was for a long time a poet's poet for a generation now itself growing old, so it is a fine thing to have his signature character examined and re-animated by a young poet as good as Rooney is."—John Matthias

"Kathleen Rooney's ROBINSON ALONE is a blood brother to the historical novel. She reminds us that epic stories started with the poem, and she does the tradition proud with her formal flexibility and attention to detail. Her poems 'photograph the obscure,' uncovering a lost treasure in Weldon Kees, who apparently is alive and well, living between these pages."—A. Van Jordan

O, Democracy!
ISBN: 0984651098

Fifth Star Press, NFP. 2014

It’s late spring of 2008, and one of Illinois’ two Democratic senators is poised to become the next president of the United States. Colleen Dugan works for the other one—not on Capitol Hill, but in a Chicago skyscraper that overlooks Lake Michigan, among coworkers with little to do but field calls from angry constituents while the future of the nation gets decided elsewhere. In the coming weeks, Colleen will navigate the perils of costumed protestors, thuggish union reps, vacuous interns, trifling bureaucrats, dirty tricks by the senator’s Republican rival, and the unexpected discovery of a scandalous secret that will give her the power to change the course of the election and shape her own fate—though not necessarily for the better. A quarter-life crisis viewed from the ghostly perspective of the Founding Fathers, this is a hilarious and heartbreaking story about American politics and the difficult business of being a good citizen: walking the tricky line between self-sacrifice and self-sabotage, between doing your part and knowing your place.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk: A Novel
ISBN: 1250113326

St. Martin's Press. 2017


“Transporting…witty, poignant and sparkling.”
People (People Picks Book of the Week)

“Prescient and quick....A perfect fusing of subject and writer, idea and ideal.”
Chicago Tribune

“Extraordinary…hilarious…Elegantly written, Rooney creates a glorious paean to a distant literary life and time―and an unabashed celebration of human connections that bridge past and future.
Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed)

"Rooney's delectably theatrical fictionalization is laced with strands of tart poetry and emulates the dark sparkle of Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Truman Capote. Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart, Rooney’s nimble novel celebrates insouciance, creativity, chance, and valor."
Booklist (starred review)

“In my reckless and undiscouraged youth,” Lillian Boxfish writes, “I worked in a walnut-paneled office thirteen floors above West Thirty-Fifth Street…”

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now―her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl―but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed―and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.

The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte
ISBN: 1948510065

Spork Press. 2018

Fiction. The house is haunted but nobody's home. Only us chickens, standing still as sculpture while Loulou, the immortal Pomeranian, & Georgette, Magritte's guardian angel, take us on a tour of the asylum. The rooms in Kathleen Rooney's THE LISTENING ROOM are always listening, always watching. The walls have ears. The tears have eyes. Sometimes the screams are silent. Sometimes the silence is deafening. Stark & hard-edged as the paintings themselves, this novel in poems and flashes inhabits a world much like our own--suspended in a glazed animation of doomed hope & hopeful doom, where the virtual is realer than reality, where the muse & the bemused are confused, where the funny is wedded to the sad in unholy matrimony. "Mystery," Magritte wrote late in life, "is not one of the possibilities of reality. Mystery is what is absolutely necessary for reality to exist." Take a load off. Escape is not an option. There are no windows & no doors, only holes through which the sky or an oncoming train pours in. The stairs dead end. The clouds are voodoo dolls, sweet enough to eat. But who, Georgette & Loulou forever wonder, will devour whom?


Robinson Alone

  • Starred Review, Booklist
  • Live Nude Girl

  • Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

  • National Indie Bestseller, American Booksellers Association
  • Book of the Week, People Magazine Picks
  • Starred and Boxed Reviews, Publishers Weekly
  • Starred Review, Booklist
  • Starred Review, Library Journal
  • ILLINOIS READS Book Selection, Illinois Reading Council, 2018

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)