RIP: Nellie Y. McKay

Professor Nellie Y. McKay, who served as editor of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, passed on. The New York Times‘ obit highlights her important role in contemporary culture:

The anthology, published in 1997, was widely credited with codifying the black American literary canon for the first time. The book, which generated considerable attention in the news media, was assigned in college courses worldwide and also proved popular with a general readership. Nearly 200,000 copies are currently in print, the publisher said yesterday.

At more than 2,600 pages, the anthology spans black literature from the earliest Negro spirituals to late-20th-century writers like Gloria Naylor, Terry McMillan and Walter Mosley. It was published in a second edition in 2004, adding the work of younger writers like Edwidge Danticat and Colson Whitehead.

“It’s very necessary that we do this to establish the centrality of the African-American experience,” Professor McKay told The New York Times in 1996. “There needed to be a book that gave a coherent text of African-American literature.”

Read more on McKay here.