Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay


ACLS Fellowship Program




Nellie Y. McKay, co-editor of the groundbreaking “Norton Anthology of African American Literature,” made an indelible mark on the academy by creating space for black literature, black scholars, and black feminist thought. “Half in Shadow” traces twentieth-century black literary history through McKay’s life to reveal her role in field formation and to document the strategies black women use to fulfill professional aspirations beyond domestic labor. This intellectual biography considers McKay’s academic trajectory against the backdrop of a personal life concealed from even her dearest friends in the professoriate: the truth of McKay’s age, and marital and parental status, was revealed only after her death. “Half in Shadow” explores how McKay circumvented the limited professional opportunities race, gender, and class offered and marshalled the collective enterprise that produced black literary studies. This book maps McKay’s legacy through her scholarship, teaching, leadership, and mentoring to chart her vast disciplinary and institutional influence.