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Who and Whose We Are: Nellie Y. McKay & the Legacies of Black Women’s Intellectualism

April 28, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Curious about how there came to be a place for me, a Black woman scholar of African American literature, in the American academy, I wrote Half in Shadow: a biography that traces the life and legacy of University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Nellie Y. McKay. A book driven by interlocking personal and intellectual commitments, I make visible the hidden story of McKay, the literary scholar who made an indelible mark on higher education by creating space for Black literature, Black scholars, and Black feminist thought. I also position myself as a link in the chain of Black women’s intellectualism through a series of autobiographical “scenes,” where my life experiences serve as counterpoint to McKay’s personal story. In this talk, I recount McKay’s beginnings to map how she realized her vision of a life beyond the one prescribed for Black women born in the first half of the twentieth century. At the same time, I chart my inheritance through a matrilineal line where the work of McKay and other Black feminist literary scholars becomes my intellectual birthright.

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Shanna Greene Benjamin is a biographer and scholar who studies the literature, lives, and archives of Black women. She has published on African American literature and Black women’s intellectual history in African American Review, MELUS, and PMLA, Studies in American Fiction. She lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The McKay Lecture in the Humanities was established in honor of Nellie Y. McKay (1930-2006), Evjue Professor of American and African-American Literature at UW-Madison and pioneer in the field of Afro-American studies. The series is co-sponsored by the Institute for Research in the Humanities.

Presented in partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities and co-sponsored by the by the Alpha Chapter of Wisconsin Phi Beta Kappa.


April 28, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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