Carolynn Kingyens’ Bio
I was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia, a section of the city called “Parkwood,” a predominantly blue collar, Catholic neighborhood consisting of mid-50’s style brick row houses in domino-like configurations that were prone to chronic leaks. I am the youngest of seven children, of Italian descent.
It was an awesome neighborhood to be a kid in the eighties. We’d play games like stick ball, wire ball, Freedom, and when we got a little older, Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven - in the closets at basement birthday parties. One of my favorite memories as a kid was attending St. Anselm Parish carnivals every Spring. It was our neighborhood’s version of Disney World.
One of the rites of passage, in Parkwood, was to go explore the ruins and underground tunnels of “Byberry” (Byberry Mental Hospital), these creepy, turn-of-century decaying buildings with a morbid past of patient abuse and cover-ups. We’d be gone for hours, back before there were cell phones and helicopter parents.
I wrote an essay about Byberry, coining ourselves “The Goonies of Northeast Philly.” It was published last year in the Brooklyn-based arts and culture magazine - Across the Margin.
My parents would leave Catholicism for Evangelical Christianity sometime after my Christening, in the mid-to-late ‘70s, and this caused a chasm, at least for a while, within my extended family and neighborhood. It was a different time back then, a time when people tended to create families and communities around their own faith. After a while, it started to feel, unconsciously, of course, Us and Them, Them and Us.
I highlighted this Us/Them feeling in a poem written back in 2008. It was published in a now defunct online arts journal.
I think before I was a poet and writer, I was an observer. But I didn’t become an observer until I felt like I was on the outside of something, and that chasm created, after my family left Catholicism, caused my childhood world to shift some. I was also a very sensitive child, and could walk into a room and feel other people’s vibes, good or bad. Let’s just say I knew where I was welcomed, and where I wasn’t so observation and intuition became that steady ground for me in a not so steady world.
It was around the sixth grade that I started carrying one of my brothers’ busted up Walkmans with me for all those long bus rides to my private Christian school. I’d found that listening to music would often soothe my growing anxiety, along with being a quasi-companion.
I always say that music was my first teacher of poetry. I can remember going to Sam Goody to buy Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes in 1992, then afterwards going home to lie on my daybed, where I’d read her poetic, angst-filled lyrics along to her music. Songs like “Winter,” “Silent All These Years,” “Me and a Gun” and “Precious Things” -
Some of the music I was listening to back then, and still listen to today, include, of course, Tori Amos, Counting Crows, Ani DiFranco, Radiohead, Joy Division and New Order, Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Tom Waits to name a few.
In 1995, I started hanging out with an older writer-friend, someone who’d shared my taste in music and independent films. In a way, he’d become a mentor without being a mentor. He was the one who’d hand me a copy of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, telling me to read it.
I was never a reader up to this point, and this book was over 600 pages. Who was he kidding, I’d thought. But I took it home anyway, and read the entire book within a few days. I couldn’t put it down, and even cried at the end because I’d become so vested in the central characters. Next, I read three more Irving novels, back-to-back, and then moved on to J.D. Salniger, Saul Bellow, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf, the Beat poets. I would even go on to read The Way of The Pilgrim, the 19th century Russian work, that pea green-colored book Franny obsesses over in her quasi-existential breakdown in Salinger’s classic, Franny & Zooey.
Something happened at the intersection of observation, music, mentor and literature - writing happened, starting first with poetry.
In 1996, I started writing poetry, and had a few poems published in ‘97 and ‘98. It was around this time that I started writing short fiction as well. My first short story was entitled “Redneck Love.” I lost the hardcopy, the only copy I had, in one of my many moves.
I got married to my best friend and soulmate in 1999, and we both came from humble roots. I’d hoped to get an MFA, but put that dream on hold while we both worked and saved for a family. I stumbled into the field of business development when I found out that I had a knack for cold calling.
This knack for cold calling began as a shoe idea back when I was a fashion design student at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, Fall of ‘93. The shoe idea came about because I didn’t like carrying a purse, still dont today. So the heel of the shoe would carry things. For example, a sneaker’s heel would act similarly to the ‘90s CD tray, where you push a little side button and a custom tray would slide out like a CD would and there would be a key and a money holder. Chunky-heel boots would sell with lipstick in the heel compartment. A hiking boot heel hid a Swiss Army knife, bandaids, etc. The name of this idea was “Sole Keepers.”
I’d met, and later went to work for, a creative entrepreneur, who’d go on to financially invest in “Sole Keepers.” He hired a patent attorney, and in the meantime, I would be cold calling VP’s of shoe companies such as Candies, Kenneth Cole, Nine West, FUBU, JCPenney, Steve Madden and Sketchers. We flew to New York, where we’d meet with decision makers and had prototypes made. It was an exciting time. And then, sadly, 9/11 happened shortly after, followed by the shoe bomber. The idea got permanently shelved.
So for the next eight years, I stopped writing, and worked a series of sales jobs, becoming a chronic “clock watcher.” There were some aspects I’d enjoyed but sales was never a real passion. Writing was my passion, but during this time in my life, I was stuck in a creative wasteland. Nothing was happening, writing-wise. But in 2008, I started writing poetry again, and my poetry started to get published.
Encouraged, I kept writing, even after I’d become a mother in 2010 and again in 2011, welcoming two beautiful daughters, both named after literary characters. I’d write poetry during their naps and into the evening while they were sleeping. And since the pandemic, I still write late at night while my girls are sleeping.
In the Fall of 2014, my family and I moved to New York, and that was when a real creative awakening started to happen, albeit slowly, at first.
In 2018, I decided to put a manuscript together that would include poems written between 2008 - 2019. The first draft had a different title and direction. In the Fall of that same year, I took two back-to-back online poetry workshops with 24 Pearl Street, taught by brilliant poet, Peter Campion.
In the Spring of 2019, I took a three month, peer-led poetry workshop. By Fall, I’d felt more confident that my manuscript was finally complete. The new title would be Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound. The collective voice in this collection is intuitive, an outsider and observer, navigating a way through heartbreak, freakish accidents, ghosts, regret, illness while set against the beautiful, gritty landscape of New York.
Two weeks after sending my manuscript to a plethora of publishers, I would receive a book contract from Kelsay Books. I was in the middle of cooking dinner with my laptop atop of the granite counter, next to the stove, when I noticed the acceptance email popped up in my inbox. I started screaming with excitement, jumping up and down. My younger daughter immediately ran over to give me a big hug. My husband gave me a high five. It was definitely my “Rocky” moment.
Channeling those old, cold calling days, I started to reach out to a bunch of New York City bookstores, including Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn, before my book was even released. Every bookstore I reached out to was super supportive, and said they would carry my debut book. I was beyond thankful and appreciative.
Barnes & Noble had my debut book on their “Brooklyn Stories” display at the front of the store, right next to Paul Auster’s novel, The Brooklyn Follies and Jonathan Lethem’s novel, Motherless Brooklyn. It was a surreal moment for sure. In addition, Barnes & Noble would go on to do a generous instagram post in February 2020, writing this:
"Contemporary, urban, and impassioned, Carolynn Kingyens’ poetry resonates with a darkening echo still felt long after the first read."
During the initial quarantine, and the months that ensued, I started writing short fiction again after being encouraged by a novelist-friend. I've found that I love writing short fiction as much as I love writing poetry. This past year, I would go on to write six short stories that all got published. My most recent story is “The Peggy Effect.”