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The Nellie Tree: Reflections on the Life of Nellie Y. McKay
Recently, one of the central figures in African-American and Black Women¹s
literary studies, Nellie Y. McKay, passed away. Over the course of her
nearly forty years as an academic, she was one of the premier champions of
African-American literature, particularly the role of its women, as part of
the American canon.
Beyond the national and international dimensions of her cause, which she
pursued with undiminished vigor and success day after day for so many years,
many have had the privilege of working with her and benefiting from a
significant portion of her dedication and immense knowledge of the field. No
doubt, as many of us can attest (albeit but imperfectly given the scope of
her influence), she laid down broad and deep roots, the fruit of which will
go on for many years.
Not long after Nellie fell ill, her colleagues at the University of
WisconsinMadison, where she was the Evjue professor of American and African
American literature, instituted their own form of hospice, affectionately
called the ³Nellie Tree.² The purpose was to tap the many ³branches² and
³roots² she helped create through her dedication, to provide critical
support as she battled the illness to which she ultimately succumbed.
The metaphor of the ³Nellie Tree² is particularly apt, for it enables us to
turn around loss and struggle into rebirth and possibility, just as Nellie
did through her work for so many years. Indeed, through her unstinting and
indefatigable devotion, she helped turn around our thoughts on the cultural
production of Black women and men.
Hence, we, Kim Blockett and Gregory Rutledge, a couple of those branches and
her former charges, hereby invite you to join us in celebrating Nellie¹s
life by considering the manner in which Nellie brought you beneath the
immense canopy and fertile ground she created. Pursuant to the African
American Review¹s commitment to publish the ³Nellie Tree² in its spring
edition, we are soliciting for review poignant reflections you may have that
would capture some essential, but unique, aspect of Nellie as person,
academic icon, or both. This may include, for example, some aphorism she
uttered, her resolution of a dilemma you faced, your first encounter, some
humorous moment, or general reflection on what she meant to you.
Your submissions should include your name, present position(s), capacity or
capacities, in which she helped you most, your contact info, and then a
narrative that captures, as precisely or poignantly as possible, your
significant encounter or reflections. Entries must be 300 words or less.
While 300 words is hardly enough to characterize the life of any individual,
not to mention someone as eminent as Nellie McKay, PLEASE be mindful of this
limit, for there are many former students who deserve to be heard.
Once we have collected essays, we will then organize them in a
reader-friendly sequence and package them in a manner suitable for
publication in one of the premier African-American literary journals.
We must receive your entries no later than March 24th‹no exceptions! Send
to Kimberly Blockett at kdb13_at_psu.edu. All submissions must be email
attachments in Rich Text Format (RTF) with "Nellie Tree" in the subject
line. Direct your inquiries to Gregory E. Rutledge at gerutledge_at_gmail.com.
Kimberly D. Blockett, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
Penn State Delaware County
25 Yearsley Mill Rd.
Media, PA 19063
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or write Jennifer Higginbotham: higginbj_at_english.upenn.edu
Received on Thu Mar 02 2006 - 11:45:00 EST