Award-winning author and English professor was activist, adventurer

Brave Heart: Walker spent months in wild places around the US, the subject of her award-winning memoir.

Kathryn Kolb 83C

English professor and author Melissa Graves Walker 63C 66G 74PhD died May 4, 2011, at Hospice Atlanta of breast cancer.

Born in Dublin, Georgia, in 1941, Walker completed undergraduate and doctoral degrees in English literature at Emory. She taught at the University of New Orleans and at Mercer University in Atlanta, where she served as chair of the English department. In 1990 she became a fellow in the Institute of Women’s Studies at Emory. She was an activist for civil rights, peace, and environmental issues.

In 1991, Yale University Press published her book Down from the Mountaintop: Black Women’s Novels in the Wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Her popular textbook, Writing Research Papers: A Norton Guide, came out in four editions, the most recent in 1997.

Walker was an outspoken advocate for wilderness and served for ten years on the national board of Wilderness Watch as well as president of the Georgia chapter. She also served on the executive council of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE), and was vice chair of the Southern Appalachian Council of the Wilderness Society. In 1994, Norton published an edited collection of essays by nature and science writers titled Reading the Environment.

Shortly after turning fifty, Walker embarked on a solitary quest to America’s wilderness areas. She made two extended trips to the West, camping in Arizona’s sky islands, the northern Rockies, the red rock canyons of southern Utah, the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, and finally on the deck of a ferry bound for Alaska. Each trip lasted about three months, and during the intervening winter she camped in and around the Everglades. Her account of these travels, Living on Wilderness Time: 200 Days Alone in America’s Wild Places, was published by the University of Virginia Press and won the Georgia Writers’ Association award for Best Memoir of the Year in 2002.

Another trip took her to the Canadian Arctic to see polar bears in the wild and learn about the challenges they face. Walker’s first book for children, A Place for Delta, tells the story of an orphaned polar bear cub. Set in both the Alaskan Arctic and the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia, the book is illustrated by her son and won the International Book Award for Best Children’s Fiction of 2010.

Melissa Walker is survived by her husband, Jerome Walker; son, Richard Walker; daughter, Laura Walker; and grandsons Joseph Walker, Max Walker, and Alan Sanchez.

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