Published Originally in the Winter/Spring 2012 Issue of Berea College Magazine
W. C. Kilby ’13
Keven McQueen, ’89, has found a way to make crime pay. During the day, he appears to be a perfectly respectable instructor at Eastern Kentucky University, where he has been teaching composition and literature since 1989. However, his free time is spent associating with blood-thirsty murderers, rambunctious thieves and the occasional lynch mob.
He meets them all at the library. Keven has made a name for himself by publishing collections of historical nonfiction such as Murder in Old Kentucky and The Kentucky Book of the Dead, which concerns ghosts, giant skeletons, premature burial, monsters and other things that history tells us just shouldn’t be. He finds these tales while poring over Louisville Courier-Journal stories from the late nineteenth century preserved on microfilm at the library.
Keven arrived at Berea with his dark sense of humor already formed, and praises the English faculty for allowing him to be himself while nurturing a solid foundation upon which to grow. “My professors at Berea vastly improved my style while simultaneously encouraging me to keep my own voice,” he says, joking that he might be writing children’s books if he had gone to another school.
While he graduated with degrees in English from Berea and Eastern Kentucky University, it was Keven’s time as a tour guide at White Hall, the historic home of Berea’s co-founder and emancipationist Cassius Clay, that inspired his first book, the biography Cassius M. Clay: Freedom’s Champion. It was perhaps a natural progression from writing a book about Clay, one of Kentucky’s more notable eccentrics, to documenting bizarrely colorful characters in the books Offbeat Kentuckians and More Offbeat Kentuckians. He calls the Bluegrass State’s rich history of eccentricity and violence “a bottomless gold mine.”
He has given talks at the Kentucky Historical Society and appeared at the Kentucky Book Fair and the Southern Kentucky Bookfest. During Homecoming 2011, he signed books at the Berea College Store, where they have an entire shelf dedicated to Keven with titles such as The Axman Came From Hell and Other Southern True Crime Stories, his latest book.
While his true crime books like Cruelly Murdered might seem to make light of a dark subject, much hard work goes into writing them. Keven estimates that it takes two to three years in research and writing to produce each book, which are also family productions. His identical twin brother, Kyle McQueen, ’89, provides the illustrations.
Keven also wants the reader to be educated. “We learn about the present and the future from the past,” he says. “If my books are ever collected into one volume, perhaps it should be titled Things Not To Do.”
The real mystery might be how Keven has combined his love of writing with his politically incorrect passion for history. “Something deep in my psyche seems to respond to the less noble aspects of history,” he says. “Fortunately for me, many other people seem to feel the same way.”