Carolyn Finney photo with book jacket

Alumna, geographer and author Carolyn Finney shares research, personal journey

March 28, 2017

Distinguished writer, performer and cultural geographer Carolyn Finney didn’t hide her surprise and delight upon seeing her former Clark University professors among the small crowd gathered for Part II of the Graduate School of Geography Spring 2017 Colloquium series, on March 23.

James T. Murphy, associate professor and chair of the Graduate School of Geography Colloquium Series, meets with guest speaker and Clark Ph.D. alumna Carolyn Finney.
Associate Professor James T. Murphy, chair
of the Graduate School of Geography
Colloquium Series, meets with guest speaker
and Clark Ph.D. alumna Carolyn Finney. 

Finney, assistant professor of geography at the University of Kentucky, said she had not been on Clark’s campus since after receiving her Ph.D. here in 2006. Spotting Professor Richard Peet, Finney recalled her first year as a doctoral student at Clark and in Peet’s course on race and identity. “As a black woman in this field and in academia, I was challenged in a thousand ways,” she said.

In her talk titled, “At the Crossroads: Intellectual Ramblings, Emotional Certainties and the Art of the Common Conversation (Part II),” Finney spoke about her work in cultural research, including personal connections and influences guiding her intellectual path. She named the naturalist John Muir (acknowledging that, along with his admirable love of wilderness and the environment, he also held racist views), Jack Andraka (a 16-year-old medical innovator who demonstrated the difference between knowledge and creativity), poet Nikki Giovanni (who championed “different literacies”) and Jackie “Moms” Mabley (groundbreaking comedian who in the 1960s was boldly and humorously “sneakin’ conversations about race through the back door”).

Finney’s highly acclaimed book “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans and the Great Outdoors” has made “a clear case for the dominant culture’s habitual (though, sometimes unwitting) rejection of African Americans,” wrote the Library Journals starred review.

At the Clark colloquium talk, Finney related her deep interest in how identity, difference, creativity and resilience relate to land, land ownership and non-human nature.

“I always ask: sustainability of what? Because, at the end of the day for me it is always about relationships,” she said.

Along with public speaking, writing and consulting, Finney serves on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board and is part of The Next 100 Coalition — a first-of-its-kind coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community leaders from around the country who put together a vision statement and policy document on diversity and public lands for the Obama Administration. 

In a recent Facebook post marking Women's History Month (right), the outdoor clothing and gear company REI celebrated Finney's contributions.

The Graduate School of Geography Spring 2017 Colloquium series, which began Feb. 2 with a talk by Allison Dunn, associate professor in the Department of Earth, Environment and Physics at Worcester State University, will continue in the 2017 fall semester. The school is the oldest sustained program of geography with more Ph.D.s awarded than any other geography program in the United States. For information about the Clark GSG series, contact Kayla Peterson.

Photograph of Carolyn Finney by Peter Forbes.