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  • McKay Jenkins
    Professor
    Cornelius Tilghman Professor of English
    University of Delaware
    Department of English
    130 Memorial Hall
    Newark, DE 19716
    (302) 831-4869
    Office Hours: By appointment

    Biography

    ​McKay Jenkins is a journalist, nonfiction writer, and scholar of American studies, specializing in environmental studies and the history, journalism, and literature of race relations and social justice. The Cornelius Tilghman Professor of English, Journalism, and Environmental Humanities, he has been writing about people and the natural world for 25 years. 

    Jenkins is the author of What’s Gotten Into Us: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World (Random House, 2011), which chronicles his investigation into the myriad synthetic chemicals we encounter in our daily lives, and the growing body of evidence about the harm these chemicals do to our bodies and the environment. 

    His other books include Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness and Murder in the Arctic Barren Lands (Random House, 2005), the true tale of a pair of French Catholic missionaries who were murdered in the Arctic by a pair of Inuit hunters, and the trial and troubling cultural consequencs of this strange and fascinating event. His book The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division and the Assault on Hitler’s Europe (Random House, 2003) tells the story of America’s most famous mountain soldiers. It recounts the division’s exploits training at high altitudes in Colorado and its heroic missions in the mountains of Italy during World War Two. The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone (Random House, 2000) is the true story of five young mountaineers who, after setting out to make the first winter ascent of the highest peak in Montana’s Glacier National Park, were killed in a massive avalanche that led to one of the country’s largest search and rescue missions. The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940s (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1999) explores the influence of racial history and sexual mores on the literature of the American South in the decades immediately preceding the Civil Rights Movement. Jenkins is also the editor of The Peter Matthiessen Reader (Vintage, 2000), an anthology of the American nature writer’s finest and most enduring nonfiction work. 

    Jenkins holds degrees from Amherst College, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Princeton, where he received a PhD in English. A former staff writer for the Atlanta Constitution, he has also written for Outside, Orion, The New Republic, and many other publications. He teaches classes in nonfiction writing, nature writing, the journalism of genocide, the journalism of terrorism, and twentieth century American literature. He is a recipient of the College of Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award.

Degrees 

  • Ph.D., English, Princeton University, 1996
  • M.S., Journalism, Columbia University, 1987
  • B.A., English, Amherst College, 1985

Research Projects 

  • Watersheds and Foodsheds: An Interdisciplinary, Experiential, and Community-Based Environmental Humanities Project
    Jenkins, McKay
    In collaboration with Nancy Bentley, who runs the nearby Fair Weather Farm, environmental humanities students will study the way Americans have come to grow, distribute and eat both industrial and local, organic food. This project will allow students to build, tend, and harvest their own organic garden plot at Fair Weather Farm – and, in the process, see for themselves (with their eyes and their hands) how local, organic food production works.
  • An Environmental Humanities Farm Plot at Fair Weather Farm
    Jenkins, McKay
    In collaboration with Nancy Bentley, who runs the nearby Fair Weather Farm
    Thanks in part to a grant from the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, over the next few semesters environmental humanities students will study the way Americans have come to grow, distribute and eat both industrial and local, organic food. This project will allow students to build, tend, and harvest their own organic garden plot at Fair Weather Farm – and, in the process, see for themselves (with their eyes and their hands) how local, organic food production works.

Publications 

  • ContamiNation: My Quest to Survive in a Toxic World
    Jenkins, McKay
    New York: Avery, 2016.

    ​An investigation into the dangers of the chemicals present in our daily lives, along with practical advice for reducing these toxins in our bodies and homes, from acclaimed journalist McKay Jenkins.

    A few years ago, journalism professor McKay Jenkins went in for a routine medical exam. What doctors found was not routine at all: a tumor, the size of a navel orange, was lurking in his abdomen. When Jenkins returned to the hospital to have the tumor removed, he was visited by a couple of researchers with clipboards. They had some questions for him. Odd questions. How much exposure had he had to toxic chemicals and other contaminants? Asbestos dust? Vinyl chlorine? Pesticides? A million questions, all about seemingly obscure chemicals. Jenkins, an exercise nut and an enviro-conscious, organic-garden kind of guy, suddenly realized he’d spent his life marinating in toxic stuff, from his wall-to-wall carpeting, to his dryer sheets, to his drinking water. And from the moment he left the hospital, he resolved to discover the truth about chemicals and the “healthy” levels of exposure we encounter each day as Americans.

    Jenkins spent the next two years digging, exploring five frontiers of toxic exposure—the body, the home, the drinking water, the lawn, and the local box store—and asking how we allowed ourselves to get to this point. He soon learned that the giants of the chemical industry operate virtually unchecked, and a parent has almost no way of finding out what the toy her child is putting in his or her mouth is made of. Most important, though, Jenkins wanted to know what we can do to turn things around. Though toxins may be present in products we all use every day—from ant spray, perfume, and grass seed to shower curtains and, yes, baby shampoo—there are ways to lessen our exposure. ContamiNation is an eye-opening report from the front lines of consumer advocacy.

     
  • Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA
    Jenkins, McKay; E.G. Vallianatos
    New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

    ​When you order a meal in a restaurant, you won't find malathion, kelthane or arsenic listed on the menu as an ingredient of your entrée, but these and scores of other pesticides and dangerous chemicals are in the food we eat. They are dumped into the environment where they seep into our water supply and float in the air we breathe. The use of these poisons is approved—or in some cases, simply ignored—by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Poison Spring documents, in devastating detail, the EPA's corruption and misuse of science and public trust. In its half-century of existence, the agency has repeatedly reinforced the chemical-industrial complex by endorsing deadly chemicals, botching field investigations, turning a blind eye to toxic disasters, and swallowing the self-serving claims of industry. E. G. Vallianatos, who saw the EPA from the inside for more than two decades with rising dismay, reveals in Poison Spring how the agency has allowed our lands and waters to be poisoned with more toxic chemicals than ever. No one who cares for the natural world, or for the health of future generations, can ignore this powerful exposé.

     
  • What’s Gotten Into Us: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World
    Jenkins, McKay
    New York: Random House, 2011.

    What’s Gotten into Us? is a deep, remarkable, and empowering investigation into the threats—biological and environmental—that chemicals now present in our daily lives.

    Do you know what chemicals are in your shampoo? How about your cosmetics? Do you know what’s in the plastic water bottles you drink from, or the weed killer in your garage, or your children’s pajamas? If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably no. But you also probably figured that most of these products were safe, and that someone—the manufacturers, the government—was looking out for you. The truth might surprise you.

    After experiencing a health scare of his own, journalist McKay Jenkins set out to discover the truth about toxic chemicals, our alarming levels of exposure, and our government’s utter failure to regulate them effectively. What’s Gotten into Us? reveals how dangerous, and how common, toxins are in the most ordinary things, and in the most familiar of places:

    • Our water: Thanks to suburban sprawl and agricultural runoff, 97 percent of our nation’s rivers and streams are now contaminated with everything from herbicides to pharmaceutical drugs.
    • Our bodies: High levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals from cosmetics, flame-retardants from clothing and furniture, even long-banned substances like DDT and lead, are consistently showing up in human blood samples.
    • Our homes: Many toxins lurk beneath our sinks and in our basements, of course, but did you know that they’re also found in wall-to-wall carpeting, plywood, and fabric softeners?
    • Our yards: Pesticides, fungicides, even common fertilizers—there are enormous, unseen costs to our national obsession with green, weed-free lawns.

    What’s Gotten Into Us? is much more than a wake-up call. It offers numerous practical ways for us to regain some control over our lives, to make our own personal worlds a little less toxic. Inside, you’ll find ideas to help you make informed decisions about the products you buy, and to disentangle yourself from unhealthy products you don’t need—so that you and your family can start living healthier lives now, and in the years to come. Because, as this book shows, what you don’t know can hurt you.

     
  • Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness, Murder and the Collision of Cultures in the Arctic, 1913
    Jenkins, McKay
    New York: Random House, 2005.

    ​In the winter of 1913, high in the Canadian Arctic, two Catholic priests set out on a dangerous mission to do what no white men had ever attempted: reach a group of utterly isolated Eskimos and convert them. Farther and farther north the priests trudged, through a frigid and bleak country known as the Barren Lands, until they reached the place where the Coppermine River dumps into the Arctic Ocean.

    Their fate, and the fate of the people they hoped to teach about God, was about to take a tragic turn. Three days after reaching their destination, the two priests were murdered, their livers removed and eaten. Suddenly, after having survived some ten thousand years with virtually no contact with people outside their remote and forbidding land, the last hunter-gatherers in North America were about to feel the full force of Western justice.

    As events unfolded, one of the Arctic's most tragic stories became one of North America's strangest and most memorable police investigations and trials. Given the extreme remoteness of the murder site, it took nearly two years for word of the crime to reach civilization. When it did, a remarkable Canadian Mountie named Denny LaNauze led a trio of constables from the Royal Northwest Mounted Police on a three-thousand-mile journey in search of the bodies and the murderers. Simply surviving so long in the Arctic would have given the team a place in history; when they returned to Edmonton with two Eskimos named Sinnisiak and Uluksuk, their work became the stuff of legend.

    Newspapers trumpeted the arrival of the Eskimos, touting them as two relics of the Stone Age. During the astonishing trial that followed, the Eskimos were acquitted,despite the seating of an all-white jury. So outraged was the judge that he demanded both a retrial and a change of venue, with himself again presiding. The second time around, predictably, the Eskimos were convicted.

    A near perfect parable of late colonialism, as well as a rich exploration of the differences between European Christianity and Eskimo mysticism, Jenkins's Bloody Falls of the Coppermine possesses the intensity of true crime and the romance of wilderness adventure. Here is a clear-eyed look at what happens when two utterly alien cultures come into violent conflict.

     
  • The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and the Assault on Hitler's Europe
    Jenkins, McKay
    New York: Random House, 2003.

    ​In the winter of 1939-40, after a tiny band of Finnish mountain troops brought the invading Soviet army to its knees, an amateur skier names Charles Minot "Minnie" Dole convinced the United States Army to let him recruit an extraordinary assortment of European expatriates, wealthy ski bums, mountaineers, and thrill-seekers and form them into a unique band of Alpine soldiers. These men endured nearly three years of grueling training in the Colorado Rockies and in the process set new standards for both soldiering and mountaineering. The newly forged 10th Mountain Division finally faced combat in the winter of 1945, in Italy's Apennine Mountains, against the seemingly unbreakable German fortifications north of the Gothic Line. There, they planned and executed what is still regarded as the most daring series of nighttime mountain attacks in U.S. military history, taking Mount Belvedere and the sheer treacherous face of Riva Ridge to smash the linchpin of the German army's lines.

     
  • The Peter Matthiessen Reader
    Jenkins, McKay
    New York: Vintage, 2000.

    ​Perhaps no writer has better articulated our relationship to the environment than Peter Matthiessen. From Wildlife in America to Men's Lives, his work has captured the wonder of the natural world--and the horrors of resource exploitation, with its violent effects on traditional peoples and the poor.

    In The Peter Matthiessen Reader, editor McKay Jenkins presents a single-volume collection of this distinguished author's nonfiction. Here are essays and excerpts that highlight the spiritual, literary, and political daring so crucial to Matthiessen's vision. Matthiessen chronicles his 250-mile trek across the Himalaya to the Tibetan Plateau in a selection from the National Book Award winner The Snow Leopard. Wild peoples, wilderness, and wildlife--common themes throughout Matthiessen's oeuvre--are examined with grace and power in The Tree Where Man Was Born. Here too are excerpts from Indian Country and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Matthiessen's stunning exposé of the Leonard Peltier case and the ongoing conflict between the U.S. government and the American Indian Movement. Comprehensive and engrossing, The Peter Matthiessen Reader celebrates an American voice unequaled in its commitment to literature's noblest aspiration: to challenge us to perceive our world--as well as ourselves--truthfully and clearly.

     
  • The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone
    Jenkins, McKay
    New York: Random House, 2000.

    ​"Natural forces become natural disasters only when they get in the way of human endeavor." So writes author McKay Jenkins in his extraordinary natural history of one of the most treacherous and beautiful of these forces: the avalanche. Drawing on newspaper accounts, snow science, folklore, and interviews with the rare survivors, he traces the path avalanches have carved through the ages. In 213 BC, Hannibal lost more than 18,000 troops and a number of elephants to an avalanche in the French Alps. Austrian forces, recognizing their destructive power, deliberately triggered them to frighten and confound Italian troops during the First World War. In lucid prose, Jenkins interweaves this history with a tragic account of an avalanche that claimed the lives of five young climbers trying to push the limits of their skills and courage in Glacier National Park. Just as Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm recreates the sensation of drowning, The White Death places the reader in the middle of a climber's worst nightmare: being buried alive in a torrent of snow and ice. The 1999 avalanche season broke records across continents, and as long as we keep pushing into the world's wild places, we'll continue to reckon with this unpredictable killer. The White Death merges history with adventure and a love of nature's extremes; it is gripping reading for armchair travelers and seasoned mountaineers alike.

     
  • The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940s
    Jenkins, McKay
    Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

    If the nation as a whole during the 1940s was halfway between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the postwar prosperity of the 1950s, the South found itself struggling through an additional transition, one bound up in an often violent reworking of its own sense of history and regional identity. Examining the changing nature of racial politics in the 1940s, McKay Jenkins measures its impact on white Southern literature, history, and culture.

    Jenkins focuses on four white Southern writers--W. J. Cash, William Alexander Percy, Lillian Smith, and Carson McCullers--to show how they constructed images of race and race relations within works that professed to have little, if anything, to do with race. Sexual isolation further complicated these authors' struggles with issues of identity and repression, he argues, allowing them to occupy a space between the privilege of whiteness and the alienation of blackness. Although their views on race varied tremendously, these Southern writers' uneasy relationship with their own dominant racial group belies the idea that "whiteness" was an unchallenged, monolithic racial identity in the region.​

     
 
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    Phone: 302-xxx-xxxx  •   E-mail: xxxxx@udel.edu

 

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