Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship presents Dr. Shanna Greene Benjamin: "Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay"

Shanna Greene Benjamin is a literary critic and biographer who studies the literature and lives of black women. She has published on African American literature and black women's literary history in MELUS, African American Review, Studies in American Fiction, and PMLA.

  In January 2006, Nellie Y. McKay, the Evjue-Bascom Professor of American and African-American Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died of cancer. Shortly after her passing, the world learned of a secret McKay had kept hidden from even her closest friends: she was ten years older than they knew and a divorced mother of two. The author of Jean Toomer, Artist: A Study of His Literary Life and Work, 1894-1936, the co-editor of the groundbreaking Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and a foremother of black feminist thought who produced numerous articles on the subject, McKay reclaimed, wrote about, and taught the literature of black women writers—literature her graduate school professors claimed never existed—to ensure its place in American literary history. McKay’s intellectual contributions altered the course of American education and expanded the visibility of black writing on an international scale. But at what personal cost? Half in Shadow tells the life story of one of the foremost literary and feminist scholars of the late twentieth century to reveal the complex choices black women make to cultivate their intellectual gifts and develop themselves as producers of knowledge.