Kevin McEneaney, voice of The Millbrook Independent

Kevin McEneaney

Judith O’Hara Balfe

Kevin McEneaney, voice of The Millbrook Independent

On meeting Kevin McEneaney, one is almost immediately aware of three things; he’s reserved, he’s highly intelligent and he has a good sense of humor.

McEneaney is the wit and wisdom behind The Millbrook Independent, a blog that evolved from the print version of that publication. It's a wealth of information about music venues in this part of Dutchess County interspersed with poetry, art reviews, articles on holidays and other items, and a smattering of science.

Having acquired degrees from the University of Dayton in Ohio in 1970, Middlebury College in Vermont in 1975, and a master’s in philosophy from Columbia University in New York City in 1977, McEneaney was an adjunct college instructor from 1989 until he stopped teaching to write a book in 2009. He taught freshman composition, Introduction to Literature and Russian literature — he and his wife, Veronica, had adopted three children from Russia — at several schools including Marist College, University of Hartford, Quinnipiac University, and SUNY Purchase in White Plains.

Born in Hicksville, New York, McEneaney lived in Ohio, Vermont and Manhattan before finding his way to Dutchess County.

He's been a literary consultant and writer for Encyclopedia Americana; the executive director of the American Irish Historical Society in Manhattan; the owner of a successful bookstore on West 55th Street, just off Fifth Avenue. Facsimile Bookshop specialized in Irish literature and history, as well as music recording, carrying books and recordings imported from Ireland and England. When the landlord wouldn’t renew his lease he tried another location, then, in 1987, decided to close.

The next year, his wife got a job in Danbury, and the family left the Upper West Side for Union Vale. They rented a small cottage at the Marion Epley Estate on Route 9, recommended by his friend, novelist Thomas Gallagher.

McEneaney began his career at The Millbrook Independent as a truck driver, delivering newspapers, in 2011, just two years after the paper was first established. (The town's local paper, The Millbrook Round Table, had folded in 200.)

“2011 was the year after my critical book on Tom Wolfe was published, and I had just completed my book on novelist Russell Banks and was beginning my book on Hunter S. Thompson,” he said.

McEneaney is the author of three books: “Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo”; “Russell Banks: In Search of Freedom”; and “Tom Wolfe’s America: Heroes, Pranksters, and Fools.” He is also a poet and has published two collections: “The Enclosed Garden” and “Longing.” Both were published in French and Japanese as well as English. Unsurprisingly, he also answers to Poet Laureate of Smithfield. His poetry is often found in The Millbrook Independent.

“I was interested in The Millbrook Independent because it was the only venue in the area that offered arts critique as well as local news.”

McEneaney began writing for the Independent when the former owner, Stephen Kaye, asked McEneaney to cover a musical event at Bard College one evening in his stead, in September 2012. He has been writing for the paper ever since.

When circulation for the paper dwindled, Kaye went online; that led to even fewer print sales, and it seemed to be judicious to go completely digital; that happened in 2018.

When Kaye retired, McEneaney took on the blog.

“The new online format, which is the one in existence now, began in spring of 2020,” said McEneaney. “Stephen Kaye had financed the online site and then gave it to me, so I was then sole publisher and editor,” said McEneaney. It remains free.

This is technically McEneaney’s “retirement job” — he’s 76 — but one that he loves and intends to keep on doing for as long as he can. He attends an event and writes it up almost immediately, sometimes posting articles at 1 or 2 a.m. It costs little to keep the blog running, he said, though he dislikes night driving. He can do it all from home, with no inconvenience to his wife or his cat, and he has no editors to answer to.

People love his articles because they contain bits of history, and usually a touch of humor, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise. His recent article in honor of Valentine’s Day started with Claudius II, touched on the beheading of Valentine the physician and Roman Catholic priest who later became St. Valentine, and also mentioned Hamlet, the Duke of Orleans, and finally Catherine Howard, who is responsible for the hearts-and-flowers Valentine’s Day cards we still see today.

“Over the past 20 years, there has been much growth in the arts and there are many more concerts and art exhibitions throughout the county,” said McEneaney. “Dutchess County now has three thriving bookstores. Mid-Hudson Arts now plays a vital role in the county. WMHT radio from Kingston was not available when I first moved to Union Vale.”

McEneaney writes two or three articles a week usually, maybe 100 per year, but there is not a set schedule. He has other writers who submit works from time to time — such as Jim Flaherty, Tim McGonigle and Bill Schlesinger — on topics including science, social topics, literature and the arts.

McEneaney admits that what he does is a labor of love. Interviewing people such as local artist Susan Hennelly or reviewing writer Neil Gaiman; reviewing performances and then talking about them; and writing and discussing the many concerts he attends: It’s all good, said McEneaney, and he isn’t about to give it up.

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