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Eugenia Shanklin: Memorial Comments

By Nancy P. Schwartz (College of Southern Nevada)


Eugenia Shanklin died on Wednesday, October 31, at 68, was lung cancer. Genie was a Professor in the Sociology-Anthropology Department of The College of New Jersey, and had taught there since 1983. She also taught at Princeton University and at the Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. I met Genie at Princeton during my graduate career, have known her for over two decades, and will miss her warmth, wit, compassion, intelligence, and utter elegance deeply.

Genie was a founding AfAA member. She served two terms as Membership Chair. In her platform statement to rejoin our board, she mentioned some of her most recent projects including fundraising for Project Hope, Njinikom, a Cameroonian organization dedicated to helping AIDS victims obtain anti-retroviral drugs as well as work with UNESCO and the Cameroon government on resettling of survivors of the Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon. In 1986, a volcano under Nyos exploded, leading to the death of nearly 2000, and the displacement of thousands into refugee camps. Genie interviewed survivors together with Cameroonian anthropologist, Dr. George Mbeh to document how the local history and new mythology surrounding the event changed over time, to help repair facilities in the camps, and to improve the camps’ water supply systems. She and her colleagues set up a foundation, the Friends of Nyos Foundation, to generate a continuing supply of funds. At her death she was working on a volume on the cultural history of the kingdom of Kom in Cameroon together with a group of young Cameroonians. Genie believed in collaboration and in bringing people together and very gifted at this. She was a driving force in North American Association of Cameroon Scholars and since 1987, their Coordinator and Newsletter Editor. Her work for this group was a model for me. It inspired me to get scholars working around Lake Victoria together. I will miss her sage counsel.

Genie appeared on the BBC and German Public Radio to discuss her work. It was multifarious and diverse. In addition to the work mentioned above, Genie worked on women’s rebellions, “matriarchal moments,” urban ecology, ethnomedicine, food, kinship and marriage, missionaries, witchcraft, pythons (May the Luo she-python Omieri bless her), domesticated animals, the history of anthropology, oral history in Appalachia, public transport and free speech, the effects of the Common Market on Donegal, Ireland, and a host of other topics.

Genie was a wonderful teacher as well as a fine scholar. She took time out of her busy schedule to take emails from my students when I taught her book on Anthropology and Race. Her most well-known course was on American fantasies of witches, werewolves and vampires and what these images tell us about our culture. Rachel Adler, her colleague at the College of New Jersey, noted, “That she passed away on Halloween was her special way of leaving this world.”

Genie was born in Kentucky and completed a manuscript on memories and short stories of her childhood in Kentucky. Her BA and MA were from UCLA. She received her Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1973 with a thesis on "Sacred and Profane Livestock in Southwest Donegal, Ireland." She was an ardent water-colorist, an opera lover, a baseball fan, a dog lover (Tibetan Terrier, as a cat lover I will forgive her this), and an active member of the Democratic Party in Princeton, of Community Without Walls, and of the Princeton Research Forum. Genie is survived by her daughter Cheryl Cramer, son-in-law John Papierowicz, and granddaughter Lee Papierowicz, of Monmouth Junction, and also her sister Lynda Webb, of Coos Bay, Oregon, her brother Jerry Kapp, of Speedwell, Tennessee, and many, many friends and colleagues around the globe.

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