THE PEOPLE

The people past, present and future who help us evolve as a species in and of nature.

Crad Kilodney

By R. E.

No one made an art of the curmudgeonly like Toronto writing legend Crad Kilodney, a self-exiled American who migrated to the sidewalk storefront and plied his chapbook publications to a fearful and occasionally bemused public.

His previous life as an astronomy major gave no indication of the literary mind lurking inside, and some would question that his work even qualified as literature. Yet the grand absurdity and transparency of his writing (he was often the central character) allowed him to reveal the grim reality of urban existence in ways that the prize-winners could only dream of. His views of humanity were not hidden or softened by the modern tendency toward euphemism. He simply told you about what he observed and granted you his interpretation of what it meant, even if it was a hard pill to swallow.

Maligned by the literati as well as the publishing houses, he printed his books economically and coarsely for those on the move to offices and factories. He would set up his wares in front of boarded-up buildings and gritty street corners, but did not exclude the financial district as a target market, knowing that the maximum effect lay in confronting those bottled-up souls.

With a grim, scowling countenance he stared down and reduced every passerby to a psychological footnote, braving the worst elements year after year while building up a persona of misanthropy that only silent film villains had the right to possess. But the titles of his books (Bloodsucking Monkeys from North Tonawanda, Suburban Chicken-strangling Stories and The Charnel House Anthology of Bad Poetry, to name a few) hinted at a sly and outrageous sarcasm that only his true fans could fully comprehend. Most others bristled at what they regarded as garbage literature and would quickly flee to the other side of the street.

crad-33But Kilodney loved playing the street provocateur and reveled in the myriad reactions his existence generated. In his own words, “while most writers are inspired by conventionally great literature, I drew inspiration from the exact opposite: the slush pile, the crank letter, and of course the vanity press.” The lower the brow, the more he could abandon the niceties and speak from the tortured heart. And he did that in a way that only Henry Miller could rival. He symbolized the lonely urban soul begging for kindness in a world where only indoctrinated greed seemed to exist. He lived as he wrote, mostly in poverty and with few friends to support him. He was the opposite of the perma-bliss urbanite on the way to a yoga session. He was, rather, a brilliantly observant and wise sannyasi, entirely mendicant and authentic in his being.

Those who actually knew Crad regarded him as one of the funniest and most honest people they could ever know. And while he leaned on his tobacco and whiskey at the end of day to help numb the freezing or sweltering reality of the street, he managed to shake the conservative establishment of the city to its literary core. His form of higher consciousness manifested itself in true creative bravery and willingness to sacrifice his pride to share his experience with the droves of isolated souls who realized they had a friend in this unlikely hero.

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1 Comment on "THE PEOPLE"

  1. Really enjoyed these photos and reading this remembrance. I was a teenager out on excursions to the Big City from Mississauga when I first saw Crad Kilodney on Yonge Street, usually standing between Wellesley and Charles. He was an unforgettable presence, with his knowing look and hulking stance…somehow both creepy and unthreatening. I was most fascinated by the unconventional life in the arts he evidently chose – no one I knew spent their time standing silent, in front of store windows, holding up decrepit-looking paperbacks with disturbing titles. I always caught his eye, however, and now that he is gone, and I have a few more decades under my belt, I regret even more not having had the guts to speak to him and get a taste of what lay behind those eyes.

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