Born May 13, 1953 in Atlanta, Georgia; died August 30, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois. Following her love of books-including the handmade, comics, art books, zines, and literary works produced by presses large and small-as well as her facility for storytelling, Barbara Nell studied American and English literature/writing (BA, University of Washington, Seattle); twice attended the writing program at Banff School of Fine Arts (Canada); acquired a Masters in Library Science from Syracuse University, specializing in special collections of art and literature; and earned her MFA from Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts/Bard College in an interdisciplinary program for writers, musicians, and visual artists. She helped manage The Book Project, a literary bookstore in Seattle, and worked as a librarian at Brown University and at the Chicago Public Library. She traveled extensively-visiting every state in the United States but Hawaii and touring much of Europe-before settling in Chicago, where she first volunteered at the Southeast Asia Center, then worked at Truman College as an English instructor to non-native speakers of English. Ever curious about the world-its natural landscapes and human constructions-and alert to the interconnectedness of all inhabitants of our endangered planet, Nell once traveled with a small group of naturalists into a remote area of Alaska. Upon opening her tent at daybreak, she met the eyes of a young wolf. The two contemplated one another for a long moment, she recalled-both inquiring and unafraid. When her health was compromised, Nell became an adventurer through the Internet, posting fiction and exchanging commentary with other political progressives. She volunteered online assistance to Middle Eastern tutors and students of English until the final days of her too-short life. She is survived by her mother, Lola, brother Mark and his family, two aunts and several cousins, her beloved cat Omar, and friends in Chicago and on the east and west coasts. Donations in her memory may be made to four of the many non-profits that advance her wide-ranging interests and concerns: Democracy Now! (democracynow.org), Poets House (poetshouse.org), Chicago no-kill shelter Felines & Canines (felinesinc.org), (Franklin Furnace (franklinfurnace.org), and The Wilderness Society (wilderness.org).
Published in Chicago Tribune from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, 2013