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Kevin Fenton

Kevin Fenton

Kevin Fenton lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota and works as an advertising writer and creative director. His fiction has appeared in the Northwest Review, the Laurel Review, and the Emprise Review. His writing on graphic design has been anthologized in Looking Closer 2 and Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Merit Badges the Novel | Facebook Group


Merit Badges

Merit BadgesMidwest Connections PickMerit Badges

$15.00 paper | $26.00 cloth
233 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-936970-03-2 (paper)
ISBN: 978-1-930974-95-1 (cloth)
Publication Date: Jan 2011 (cloth), April 2011 (paper)
Buy: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | ShopWMU | UPNE

AWP Award Series in the Novel
Judge: Jim Shepard

Follow four friends as they move from The Brady Bunch to Seinfeld, from junior high to middle management. There is Quint, whose rebellion frays into self-destruction; Slow, who struggles to become the world’s first teenage father figure; Chimes, who fears losing his friends while picking up a 7-10 split; and Barb who escapes the conformity of Minnisapa only to find herself returning by dark of night. You will feel as if you’ve always lived in Minnisapa, Minnesota. And you will never underestimate nice kids from the Midwest again.

"An impressive vitality, droll wit, and affecting nostalgia lift Fenton's first novel about four high school pals growing up together during the 1970s in the fictional town of Minnisapa, Minn. . . . Eminently readable prose . . ."
       —Publisher's Weekly

"Merit Badges, his debut novel, positively glows."
       —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Most importantly, the characters contained within its covers, doled out to the reader as chapter-specific narrators, are truly individual. . . . Fenton knows his characters, their language, and their souls."
       —Benjamin Woodard, Rain Taxi

"A beautifully crafted, perceptive and often funny evocation of some extraordinary, ordinary people."
       —Shelf Awareness, Robert Gray’s Top 10 for 2010 (Bookseller Recommendations)

"Merit Badges lays out for the reader an entire, if circumscribed, world, in all of its limitations and surprising possibilities, rendered with a heartening intelligence and tenderness and wit— ‘The weather was like me, only more so. The weather needed some counseling’ —and in so doing reminds us of Simone Weil’s understanding that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."
       —Jim Shepard, from the judge’s citation

"Merit Badges is hilarious, painful, lovely, nostalgic, generous and true. Kevin Fenton creates an unforgettable group of characters, in whose lives and thoughts and actions readers will often recognize themselves. This is a very funny, very moving, and wonderful book."
       —Julie Schumacher, author of The Body is Water

"Kevin Fenton’s Minnisapa is a place to rival any in fiction, so skillfully sculpted that you put down the book (reluctantly, when you must) sure you’ve lived there your entire life. Fenton’s vision of the world is tender and true; his characters and their voices are unforgettable. By turns incantatory and matter-of-fact, philosophical and funny, Merit Badges is a thrilling debut."
       —Amy Shearn, author of How Far Is The Ocean from Here

"In Merit Badges, Kevin Fenton welcomes his lucky readers to Minnisapa, Minnesota, on the Mississippi banks where, amidst the confusions of the last quarter of the 20th century, the hills knelt like buffaloes, public niceness was an art form and the winter air was a psychopath. Blending narrative at once hilarious and wrenching with phrases that send both our senses and our intellects dancing, Fenton traces the struggle to acquire wisdom and love in a vivid collection of characters—for whom being a ‘dube’ is the great public anxiety and desperation the great private menace. Here is literary art working, without flaw, at a high level of affirmation and intelligence."
       —Tom McBride, co-author of "Beloit College Mindset List"



List ten items which are essential to be carried on an overnight backpacking trek and explain why each item is necessary.

A list—"Things That Are Very Minnisapa"—compiled by a bunch of people sitting around in the high school concourse and later updated by Slow and taken with him to the engineering program at Iowa State University.

  1. That two-story portable cow that’s usually outside of Steak Out. Can be rented for parties so that, say, when your kid graduated from Minnisapa State you could honor him by parking a building-sized plastic Holstein in front of his apartment.
  2. That signboard where the guy who owned Papa Tony’s had spelled out in those black movable letters: "BUY LOCAL PIZZA. NOT CORPORATE PIZZA." ("Pizza places aren’t usually that shaming"—somebody around the table.)
  3. Those photographs of everybody who was in sports, in some stupid sports-hero pose, that local businesses set in their windows. They were called "Minnihawk Boosters." Note: Pooch and I both have ours.
  4. The name "Minnihawks" because it tries to combine "Minnisapa" and "hawks" which were never supposed to be combined. They sound like tiny hawks.
  5. Herky Hawk. Mascot for the above-mentioned team, a bulked-up orange-and-black bird. Herky scowls to let you know he means business.
  6. The fact that the Minnisapa gay and lesbian organization doesn’t include any gays or lesbians—although, in the words of the founder, they "were welcome to join."
  7. Broadcasts of fireworks on the radio. Broadcasts of beauty pageants on the radio. This forced the announcers to improvise wildly. "Uh, that’s a magenta one. It’s kind of blossoming. Oh, that’s pretty. This next one’s kinda chartreuse. Bunch of little stars." Or: "She's dancing to ‘Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.’ Very energetic. She’s moving her arms a lot. Very graceful. She’s clearly put a lot of work into this."
  8. The town characters like the old socialist vegetarian who loitered at the co-op all day and wrote these totally incoherent letters to the editor, and the nun who rode a bicycle everywhere and collected cans in bulging garbage bags.
  9. The daily "Be Nice To" promotions on the radio station, where the announcers would encourage Minnisapaens to be especially nice to someone that day. Pooch got one when he got some scholarship. Pooch skipped sixth grade, which theJaycees think gives him supernatural powers.
  10. The fact that the local Go Mart has a donut of the month, and that the donut of the month is named after a Minnisapa "celebrity" and that this is considered a big honor.