Jessica Brilliant Keener

About Jessica

Jessica Keener / Photo by Sharona Jacobs
Jessica Brilliant Keener | Photo: Sharona Jacobs

I have many interests—nature, people, home design, books, music, movies, travel—but in the end, all these things converge and root back to one thing that I find compelling: how we relate to ourselves and to others. In my writing, I love unraveling interpersonal sagas and exploring how people reshape their histories in a hopeful, life-altering way. I believe we're all vessels of history, imagined or real. What drives people to make choices, good or bad? Writing is my way of delving into the complex nature of humanity.

I'm also fascinated by how people define their personal nesting grounds. Most of us harbor secrets, consciously or unconsciously. Fiction is one way to shine light on these emotional caves we all have inside us.

I also have a long-standing interest in health that comes from my early experience with a life-threatening illness, and as a recipient of an experimental bone marrow transplant (I'm talking late '70s here). I was one of the first. My story, "Recovery," was inspired by this transformative event and won Redbook's second prize in fiction. You can find this in my collection, Women In Bed.

I grew up in the greater Boston area (and if you're from Newtonville you'll remember me as Jessica Brilliant).

Some Key Facts

  • Graduated early from high school because I couldn't wait to get out and explore the world outside the classroom.
  • Eventually, got my B.A. (with honors) in English from Boston University.
  • Picked up my diploma and checked into a hospital for a bone marrow transplant. I was fatally sick with a rare blood disease called Aplastic Anemia. For 2.5 months I lived in a sterile room. After I left the hospital, I spent another year avoiding germ-infested crowds. The happy ending to this part of my life is that the transplant worked. A complete cure.
  • Awarded full-tuition scholarship from Brown University, based solely on writing excellence.
  • Taught a fiction workshop to freshman, Brown University.
  • Worked one summer critiquing manuscripts for the Senior Fiction editor at The Atlantic.
  • Married. Moved to Miami, Florida, where I taught ESL, then freshman literature and composition at the University of Miami. Moved a few more times (Atlanta, Budapest, Portland, ME) before returning to Boston, MA. Raised our beautiful son, and our beloved dog, a fish, two degus, and a cat.
  • Taught writing at Boston University.
  • Boston Book Festival, panelist and moderator since 2010.
  • 2022 & 2024, awarded a fellowship by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). Fellows are selected through a competitive peer review process, based on their work.

Early on, I devoted a lot of time to writing short stories, a form I love. My story "Recovery" won second prize in Redbook magazine's fiction contest and was listed in The Pushcart Prize under "Outstanding Writers." You can find "Recovery" in my story collection: Women in Bed. Over the years, my fiction has been published in many literary magazines and online sites including The Southeast Review, Chariton Review, Northwest Corridor, Night Train, Eclectica, Wilderness House Literary Review, Connotation Press, The Nervous Breakdown, and have been finalists or place winners in various contests.

I am also a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in fiction.

And a Jakobson Scholarship from Wesleyan University, summer writers conference, awarded to "writers of unusual promise."

I've been on some radio shows including a National Public Radio interview with John Ydstie; Robin Hominoff Kall's "Reading with Robin" radio show; David Brudnoy's radio show; and Brad Listi's "Other People" podcast.

For ten years, I helped select stories for Agni, one of the nation’s top literary publications.

I've published more than 100 feature articles for national publications including The Boston Globe Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Inspired House, Coastal Living, Design New England, Boston Common, and Poets & Writers.