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James Kilgore

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James Kilgore was a 1960s political activist in California, who ultimately became involved with the Symbionese Liberation Army.  In 1975, he fled a Federal explosives charge and remained a fugitive for 27 years. During that time, he rejected the politics of small group violence and built a life as an educator, researcher, activist, parent and husband in Southern Africa. Using the pseudonym of John Pape, he earned a  Ph.D. and authored a number of academic articles and educational materials and co-edited the acclaimed 2002 anthology: Crisis of Service Delivery in South Africa (HSRC, Cape Town and Zed Press, London).  Authorities arrested Kilgore in November 2002 and extradited him to California where he served six and a half years in state and Federal prison. While incarcerated, he worked as a teachers’ assistant and also completed the drafts of eight novels and a screenplay. Umuzi Publishers (Cape Town) released his first work, We Are All Zimbabweans Now, in June of 2009. Two of his subsequent novels are contracted for release in 2011, Prudence Couldn’t Swim (PM Press, Oakland, CA) and Freedom Never Rests: A Novel of Democracy in South Africa (Jacana Media, Johannesburg).
He presently lives with his family in Illinois where he is a Research Scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois.

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Prudence Couldn’t Swim
Author: James Kilgore
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-495-3
Published June 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 x 5.5
Page count: 208
Subjects: Fiction


Set in Oakland, CA, white ex-convict Cal Winter returns home one day to find his gorgeous, young, black wife, Prudence, drowned in the swimming pool. Prudence couldn’t swim and Cal concludes she didn’t go in the water willingly. Though theirs was a marriage of convenience, he takes the murder personally. Along with his prison homie Red Eye, Cal sets out to find out who did Prudence in. His convoluted and often darkly humorous journey takes him deep into the world of the sexual urges of the rich and powerful, and gradually reveals the many layers of his wife's complex identity. While doing so, Cal and Red Eye must confront their own racially charged pasts if the killer is to be caught.

Author James Kilgore has woven together strands of his own quixotic and complicated life—twenty-seven years as a political fugitive, two decades as a teacher in Africa, and six years in prison—into a heady tale of mystery and consequences.


"James Kilgore is a masterful writer, and as a US activist who has lived in Africa most of his adult life, Kilgore is able to connect us to politics and culture as no other writer. This character driven mystery promises to find a devoted following."
--Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War.

"James Kilgore’s writing is a refreshing blend of literary talent and political insight ; something  sorely missing from much of the fiction penned by writers on the Left. His wit, swift pacing, and dead-on characterization are skillfully woven into an unflinching vision for radical change and social justice. So often we are told that a commitment to radical change and a rollicking good read mix like oil and water. Along comes Kilgore to put that lie to rest!"
B. Wilderson III, Author of Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, Winner American Book Award,2008

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For a calendar of speaking events, please click here


  • James Kilgore's Talk at U. of Johannesburg, July 18, 2012
      I want to thank the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation , and in particular Salim Vally, Mondli Hlatshwayo and Eugenia Sekgobela for organizing this forum and to all of you for coming. But more importantly I want to add a spec...
  • South African Interview
    Here's a link to an interview I did with South African reporter and activist Andre Marais for the magazine Amandla. It mainly focuses on the political background to Freedom Never Rests, my second novel.
  • My new writing on electronic monitoring
    I'm writing now on a new aspect of mass incarceration: the use of electronic monitors. While they give people a sort of "partial freedom" there are some problems with this technology and where it's heading. Link to my piece in Counterpun...
  • The New Operation Wetback and the Private Prison Profiteers
    The New Operation Wetback is phase two of mass incarceration. Since 2000 the number of Latinos in prison has escalated by more than 50 percent while the number of African-Americans has declined slightly. This is a new target group for the mass inc...

What others are saying...



prudencePrudence Couldn't Swim: A Review
By Seth Sandronsky

November 8th, 2012

In the ’70s, political activist James Kilgore, wanted on federal explosives charges, hid from the law in a house near Sacramento’s Southside Park. Later, he fled to southern Africa where he was eventually apprehended and extradited to the United States. Kilgore spent six-and-half years in a California prison where he taught himself to write fiction. Prudence Couldn’t Swim (PM Press, $14.95) is a hard-boiled crime novel about what happens after a white ex-convict finds the body of his black wife floating in their swimming pool. Set in the hills and flatlands of Oakland, California, as well as urban and rural Zimbabwe, fear, greed and lust propel the characters. So does the global economy that forces people to migrate to earn income. Kilgore has an ear for dialogue, an eye for detail and a heart for the exploited.

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prudencePrudence Couldn't Swim: A Review
Publisher's Weekly
November 2012

At the start of Kilgore’s funky, funny first mystery, white ex-con Calvin Winter discovers the body of his black wife, Prudence, floating in the swimming pool of their Oakland, Calif., home. Winter didn’t know much about Prudence (their marriage was one of convenience), but he knew she couldn’t swim. Taking his wife’s murder as a personal affront, Winter seeks rough justice in an unforgiving world, aided by a friend, Red Eye Cornell, and copious amounts of Wild Turkey. A nasty Oakland cop keeps the pressure on Winter, who works various con games to get more info out of those familiar with Prudence’s past. The sad saga of Prudence’s transformation from bright Zimbabwean schoolgirl to American trophy wife unfolds in fragments. Kilgore, who was involved with the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s, lived for 27 years in South Africa as a fugitive. In 2002, he was arrested in Cape Town, and later served six-and-half years in California prisons, where he wrote this and two other novels, We Are All Zimbabweans Now and Freedom Never Rests.

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