College of Education and Human Development wordmark.

Penny Kelsey2014 Rising Alumni

Penny Kelsey photo

Penny Kelsey is of Seneca descent (patrilineal) with family roots in western New York and Pennsylvania. Penny studies Native American literature, film, and theory, and currently teaches courses on the Ethnic Graphic Novel, Hawaiian Literature and Film, and the American West in Literature, Film, Photography, and Gaming. Her book, Tribal Theory in Native American Literature: Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Worldviews, won the Woodward-Pope Prize in Literature. She was editor for Maurice Kenny: Celebrations of a Mohawk Poet, which won the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers Best Literary Criticism Award. Her study of contemporary Haudenosaunee art, film, and literature, Reading the Wampum, will appear with Syracuse University Press this fall. Penny is also the faculty adviser to two Native American student organizations.


Associate Professor, English and Ethnic Studies
University of Colorado

CEHD Degree

Ph.D., English - College of Liberal Arts/CEHD

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

bell hooks has been a primary inspiration, as a woman of color writing within the academy in a language that she is comfortable with, in a way that allows her to remain in her own skin. My grandfather has been a singular inspiration for much of my life, as he met the challenges of growing up in non-native foster-care, and he managed to nourish and sustain a family of nine children on his railroad pay with an eighth grade education.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

I've studied, at least briefly, an embarrassing number of languages: Russian, German, Spanish, Ojibwe, Dakota, Mohawk, and Seneca. Oddly, as fluent as I became in German, I never dreamed in the language; conversely, I have had dreams in Dakota and Mohawk.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

My matrilineal ancestors on the Seneca side of the family. They maintained a strong traditional life in terms of not converting to Christianity, maintaining traditional funerary practices, and passing the family cabin down through the women's line, and, yet, they found ways of surviving working as midwives, domestics, and running boarding houses in non-Native mining villages. I would love to hear their perspectives on how they made their own history on their own terms, in spite of the forces of colonialism and gender bias.

What course was most influential during your time in CEHD?

I was deeply influenced by the seminar Preparing Future Faculty (PFF). This class prepared me to be an outstanding teacher more than any other course I had in my graduate study. Deborah Buzzard taught us how to prepare materials like our teaching philosophy and teaching portfolio for the job market, but she also inspired us to deeply interrogate our own assumptions about teaching and to experiment with alternative methods which would reach all kinds of learners (kinetic, visual, etc.).

What was the impact and benefit of your experience in CEHD?

I was far better prepared to begin my first tenure-line position than I would have been without PFF. The rest of my education at the University of Minnesota prepared me intellectually to participate and publish in the academy, but PFF laid the groundwork for succeeding as an instructor at teaching institutions.