Laura Stempel Mumford examines the rise of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and other female African American novelists. UW professor Nellie McKay, editor of a recent collection of essays on Morrison and her work, tells Mumford that these writers are overturning our culture's assumptions about black women's experiences and removing black women from the periphery of American life "so that they become the subject of their own lives." These writers, McKay points out, share the idea that race is not the only issue in black lives. They emphasize the survival strategies black women have developed, and by doing so present those women as both autonomous and deeply connected to the spiritual and other traditions of their community. McKay goes on to a career that would be distinguished by her co-editorship of the seminal Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, her tenure as president of the Midwest Consortioum of Black Studies and her induction into the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. She succumbs to colon cancer in January 2006.