English MATTERS — SPRING 2010

For the Love of Reading: in Appreciation of Nan Ketcham

If there is any single thing that binds together the many strands of an English Department, it is a simple love of reading. Most of us associated with English are omnivorous readers, not indiscriminate by any means in our tastes, but voracious, continual, impassioned consumers of reading material. We vary a great deal in how we read, what we read, when we read, and even where we read. We could probably debate without end our preferences for particular books and the reasons behind those choices, and we digest what we read in remarkably diverse ways. But we all need to be turning pages with regularity; we need to absorb words and stories and images into our own being if we are to feel at home with ourselves, both invigorated and at ease.picture of Nan Ketcham

Nan Ketcham, longtime friend and benefactor of the UW Department of English, is by any account one of these perpetual readers. Among committed readers, Nan could easily be placed at the high end; her favorite book is that classic novel weighing many pounds in any edition, Anna Karenina. Nan’s involvement with the University of Washington has taken many different forms, building over time a deep friendship on both sides. After a long absence devoted to raising her family, Nan herself returned to the University of Washington and finished her B.A. degree in English in 1974. After graduation, she continued to take courses in English and History as an Access student—a UW program that allows Washington state residents aged 60 and older to audit courses on a space-available basis and with the approval of the instructor. Before and during this period, Nan participated in the Capitol Hill Book Club (which we hope to profile along with other reading groups in a future issue of English Matters), a model of life-long dedication to the pleasures of reading.

In 2002 Nan established the Nancy K. Ketcham Endowment for English, which provided for the creation of a Ketcham Endowed Professorship, as well as supplementary funding to support faculty research, recruitment and retention, publication expenses, and research travel. In subsequent years, Nan contributed additional funding and created the Nancy K. Ketcham Chair in English. It is, in part, the open-ended nature of Nan’s gift that has made it so exceptionally valuable for this department. At the time of her initial gift, she based her decision upon “the need to make certain this Department remains one of the very best, whatever the challenges may be.” Informally, she has said that because she loves both reading and the University of Washington, it made perfect sense to make this gift and that she was grateful she could do so.

Since its creation, this endowment has indeed aided the Department in meeting the challenges we have faced over the past few years. It has helped us recruit and retain scholars and supported in many, many ways ongoing research activities of faculty within the Department. The current holder of the Nancy Ketcham Professorship in English is Laura Chrisman. Professor Chrisman works in the fields of postcolonial and black Atlantic cultural studies, South African literature, and British imperial literature. Her books include Rereading the Imperial Romance (2000) and Postcolonial Contraventions (2003), as well as the first reader in the field of postcolonial literary and cultural studies, Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory (1994). Nan’s impact, however, stretches well beyond the support of any single faculty member. In ways direct and indirect, countless faculty and student publications of recent years have her enabling spirit behind them.

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