Richard McKenna

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Richard Milton McKenna (May 9, 1913 - November 1, 1964) was an American sailor and writer.

Early life

McKenna was born in Mountain Home, Idaho, on May 9, 1913. Seeking more opportunities than could be found in such a rural part of the country at the height of the Great Depression, McKenna joined the U.S. Navy in 1931.

McKenna served in the Navy for 22 years, including 10 years of active sea duty. He served in both World War II and the Korean War, and retired shortly afterwards as a Chief Machinist's Mate.

Due to the benefits of the GI bill, McKenna was able to attend college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he studied creative writing. He also married a librarian, Eva, whom he met at the college.

Writing career

McKenna began his writing career publishing science fiction. "He had enormous talent", writes his colleague Ben Bova in the book Notes to a Science Fiction Writer, "and his first science fiction story 'Casey Agonistes' immediately established him as a writer to be watched."

McKenna's best known work was The Sand Pebbles (1962), made into the well-known 1966 film of the same title. The protagonist was an enlisted career sailor on a US Navy river gunboat named the San Pablo in China during the 1920s. McKenna himself served aboard a river gunboat on the Yangtze Patrol, but about ten years following the events in his novel and of more modern construction (San Pablo was an ancient gunboat seized from the Spanish in 1898). The Sand Pebbles won the $10,000 1963 Harper Prize Novel and was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

McKenna's posthumously published short story "The Secret Place" won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1966 and was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1967. Casey Agonistes and Other Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (1973) collects the title story and four other short works: "Hunter Come Home," "The Secret Place," "Mine Own Ways," and "Fiddler's Green." The collections The Sons of Martha and The Left Handed Monkey Wrench were also published posthumously.


McKenna suffered a heart attack and died on November 1, 1964.

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