Acclaimed as a "poet of ideas" by the New Yorker, Jonathon Keats '94 is a writer and artist. He is most recently the author of Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age, published by Oxford University Press in 2013 and Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology, published by Oxford in 2011. He writes weekly art criticism for Forbes.com and the monthly Jargon Watch column for Wired Magazine. His fiction includes The Book of the Unknown (Random House), awarded the American Library Association's Sophie Brody Medal in 2010. His conceptual art has been exhibited at venues including the Berkeley Art Museum and the Wellcome Collection in London.
San Francisco, CA and Lago Maggiore, Italy
Place of Birth:
New York, NY
Amherst College, 1994
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I'm interested in everything. As a small liberal arts college, Amherst encouraged me to explore more than I could ever have imagined.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) class at Amherst:
Two classes that have kept me thinking ever since I took them are Alexander George's Philosophy of Science and William Kennick's Aesthetics. I probably draw on one or the other – or both – in all that I create.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) professor:
Fred D'Aguiar, who was Visiting Writer in the English department while I was at Amherst, provided the space for me to experiment with language and ideas – and even gave me course credit for it.
My next book will be about Buckminster Fuller and his world-changing legacy. For my next art project, I'm developing a camera that makes a unique century-long exposure. One hundred of my cameras will be distributed throughout Berlin, to be retrieved in a hundred years. The city will be watched over by those not yet born.
Awards and Prizes:
Sophie Brody Medal, American Library Association (2010)
Library Laureate, San Francisco Public Library (2009)
Prize for General Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival (2009)
McNamara Foundation Fellowship (2006)
MacDowell Colony Fellowship (2004)
Yaddo Fellowships (2003, 2008, 2010)
Ucross Foundation Fellowships (2002, 2007)
University of Arizona Poetry Center Fellowship (2000)
The 1946 edition of Roget's International Thesaurus (not for the synonyms but for the thematic organization of thought through language). Together with the 1921 edition of Mechanical Movements, Powers, and Devices – and perhaps an old copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales – the 1946 Roget's might just suffice to recreate human civilization in another universe.
(A Few) Favorite Author(s):
Italo Calvino, Henry James, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ted Hughes, George Eliot, Tom Stoppard, Leo Tolstoy, Jeanette Winterson, Lewis Carroll... and an occasional dose of Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Writing is an opportunity to explore what you do not know, and to consider ideas that you otherwise would never have thought of. Take advantage of it.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.