Kenneth F. Conklin – A Literary Journey Through Life, Literature, and Service

From Veteran to Publisher: Unveiling Ken Conklin’s Multifaceted Literary Odyssey

Nestled within the picturesque expanse of Botetourt County, Virginia, resides Ken Conklin—a man whose life brims with diverse experiences and an abiding love for literature. An esteemed author and veteran, Ken’s journey through the vivid tapestry of writing, technology, and military service has sculpted a multifaceted persona. His literary prowess extends beyond publications; as the owner of Chapin Keith Publishing, Ken champions the voices of independent authors, amplifying their narratives within the literary world. A Vietnam War veteran, his perceptive insights into humanity stem from both his military service and a career spanning continents in the technology sector. Ken’s eclectic reading choices reveal a voracious appetite for literature, evident in his affinity for lesser-known gems like Jim Harrison’s “Returning to Earth.” His admiration for compelling characters, such as Augustus McRae from “Lonesome Dove,” underscores his profound connection to the human essence within storytelling.

An ardent reader, Ken finds solace in revisiting timeless classics like Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Among his myriad literary preferences, Ken ardently champions a cadre of writers, from the widely revered Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck to lesser-known luminaries like Amanda Cockrell and Dan Smith, whom he believes deserve greater recognition. With a heart steeped in a love for the written word and a breadth of literary influences, Ken Conklin stands as a beacon in tthe literary landscape of the Roanoke Valley region of Virginia.

Ken Conklin, a native of Los Angeles, has lived in Botetourt County, Virginia, for the past eighteen years. He was awarded a 2022 Kegley Preservation Award for his book NORVEL: An American Hero about Botetourt County native Norvel Lee. Ken is also the author of The Zen of Ken, a collection of his poems. His essays have been published in the Roanoke Times and other publications such as the Victoria Advocate, Easy Reader, and Microwave Journal.  Ken is the owner of Chapin Keith Publishing, which publishes and distributes select works by independent authors. As a 19-year-old he was drafted by the US Army, serving as a “boots on the ground” soldier during the Vietnam War. His career in the technology industry gave him the opportunity to travel throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The experiences from those travels inform his writing.  He is a member of the Authors Guild, Alliance of Independent Authors, and the Poetry Society of Virginia.  Ken and his wife enjoy golf, hiking the beautiful trails of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and attending local live music events. 

What’s the last great book you read?

The Trees by Percival Everett

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison

What moves you most in a work of literature?

Compelling, unforgettable characters such as Augustus McRae in Lonesome Dove.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway

Who are your favorite writers? Are there any who aren’t as widely known as they should be, whom you’d recommend in particular?

Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Larry McMurtry, Ann Patchett, Roland Lazenby, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim Winton, Daniel Silva, Barry Lopez, Jim Harrison, John Le-Carre, Phillip Roth, Colleen McCullough, Chris Bohjalian, William Boyd, Scott Turow, Michael Chabon, and many more.

Not widely known:  Amada Cockrell, Barney Hoskins, Dan Smith

PHOTO: President Dwight D. Eisenhower (National Park Service)


NORVEL tells a fascinating story that has been too long overlooked about how a country kid from the Blue Ridge Mountains rose to become an Olympic boxer, battling both opponents and racial discrimination along the way. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to know the stories that weren’t told during the Jim Crow era.”

Dwayne Yancey, managing editor, The Cardinal News

 “Ken Conklin’s book on Norvel Lee is in a league by itself.  We have all heard the names of the greatest boxers, but without Ken bringing this great American to the spotlight he deserves . . . Norvel Lee might have been the forgotten athlete of the twentieth century.   Norvel Lee touched all the bases – Veteran – Mentor and Leader.  This book is a must read for all generations.”

Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, USN (Retired), author of Pirate Alley – Commanding Task Force 151 off the Coast of Somalia

“I was moved to tears, not only by the incredible story, but by the care and attention paid to do justice to the memory of a great man.  Norvel Lee was a giant in stature and in heart – the definition of a gentleman and a scholar. He was also the best grandpa a kid could ask for.”

            Reverend Danielle K. Anderson, Norvel Lee’s granddaughter

“Conklin has written a compelling tale about an honest Black man who fought gracefully amid chronically dishonest institutions and times. Students of boxing and history alike will find in Norvel familiar adversaries in the protagonist’s myriad bouts with the status quo and racism—and they’ll likewise be floored by Norvel’s unique display of magnanimity in confronting each. Norvel’s life is chronicled with a measure of humility that not only captures the character of this incredible man, but also accentuates the sheer magnitude of his accomplishments both inside and outside of the ring.” 

David S. Mitchell, author of We Hold These Truths

 “NORVEL tells the remarkable story of Norvel Lee who challenged Jim Crow and earned gold in the Olympics. Lee, a native of Botetourt County, Virginia, lived a life of immense significance that is detailed in Ken Conklin’s novel that combines solid prose with meticulous research. Conklin has provided a highly engaging read about a man too long overlooked…until now.”

Nelson Harris, Pastor of Heights Community Church; former Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia; author of numerous history books, most recently The Roanoke Valley In The 1940s.

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