Shanna Greene Benjamin
My career as a scholar of the literature and lives of Black women began while I was an undergraduate at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), a historically Black college in Charlotte, North Carolina. There, I was selected for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program and conducted mentored research on Toni Morrison. Being a fellow clarified my personal path to the professoriate: I wanted to teach at an HBCU and inspire others as I had been inspired. After graduating with my B.A. in English, I earned my M.A. in Afro-American Studies and my Ph.D. in English—both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That’s where I met Nellie Y. McKay, who served as my academic adviser. I returned to Charlotte to become an assistant professor at my alma mater, JCSU. I taught there for ten years before landing a job at Grinnell College in Iowa. In 2008, back to the Midwest I went.
Grinnell allowed me to develop myself as a leader and a scholar. I directed their MMUF program, became an associate dean, and was promoted to full professor. I graduated from HERS (a program administered by the Higher Education Resource Service that develops women leaders in higher education) and from the Council of Independent College’s Senior Leadership Academy. It was at Grinnell that I also embarked on the research that would become Half in Shadow. I worked closely with students and oversaw projects that advanced their skills as researchers and collaborators. Working closely with students certainly helped me to move my McKay project forward, but it also allowed me to refine my skills as a mentor. I taught students the power of sharing what you know; I demystified the steps required for low-income, first generation and students of color to find success in college; I modeled how to lift as we climb. My teaching, research, and mentoring reflected my training: as I did my work, I made space for others. Half in Shadow, in turn, makes space for a transformative yet understudied figure in Black literary history: Nellie Y. McKay.