Free Events and Publications

“Black Woman Professor – White University” Nellie Y. McKay at UW-Madison

Missed the live event? Click here to view the recording.

The Friends of UW-Madison Libraries invited Dr. Shanna Greene Benjamin to campus via a virtual event to discuss her book, Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay (UNC Press, April 2021). Dr. Benjamin was joined in conversation by Dr. Monica M. White, Associate Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology at UW–Madison. UW-Madison’s Interim Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Cheryl Gittens, provided introductions and context for the event.

Dr. Benjamin used the Nellie Y. McKay papers at the UW-Madison Archives while writing her biography of Dr. McKay. The archives revealed the limitations the academic world placed around Dr. McKay because she was a Black woman. We see in Dr. McKay’s story the strength it takes for Black women to pursue their dreams in academia.

In her biography of the influential professor and scholar, Dr. Nellie Y. McKay, Dr. Shanna Greene Benjamin examines Dr. McKay’s strategies for succeeding professionally while navigating the white-dominated academy. Dr. McKay (1930-2006) served on the UW-Madison faculty from 1977 to 2006, during which time she co-edited The Norton Anthology of African American Literature with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. With the Norton Anthology, Dr. McKay created a space for the study of Black literature and Black feminist thought in the academy. 

Despite gaining notoriety in her academic life, Dr. McKay chose to hide details about her personal life from her colleagues. Dr. Benjamin’s research demonstrates that this secrecy was a strategy McKay deemed necessary for her professional success. Dr. Benjamin’s book, Half In Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay (UNC Press, April 2021), lays bare the social climate in which Dr. McKay lived, the academic atmosphere in which she worked, and the strategies she employed to succeed in the white academy. Dr. Benjamin goes on to connect Dr. McKay’s legacy with the ongoing struggles of contemporary women of color in the academy.

We strive to ensure our events are inclusive and welcoming for all participants. If you need an accommodation, please contact



Author Eddie R. Cole and UW-Madison’s Public History Project Director Kacie Lucchini Butcher dissect the decisions made by UW leadership and other universities during the Civil Rights Era. 


Click here to view recording.

With a focus on UW-Madison, author Eddie R. Cole discusses his new book, The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom with UW-Madison’s Public History Project Director, Kacie Lucchini Butcher. Together they explore the remarkable history of how college presidents shaped the struggle for racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement.

The Campus Color Line touches on issues still crucially important to the campus community today. Student protest movements, housing discrimination, controversial campus speakers, and efforts to diversify the student body were just as much of concern to students in the past as they are in 2021. Today, as universities face growing calls to fight for racial justice, amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole’s book highlights how society’s most pressing social issues are often intertwined with higher education. His work not only provides critical historical insights but asks us to reflect on how we can understand this history today.

MONEY, MARRIAGE, & MADNESS – The Life of Anna Ott

A conversation with author Kim Nielsen:  Lessons about disability history, human value, and today’s struggles with race and equality.


Click here to view the recording.

Join Kim Nielsen and Mari Magler, Director of the McBurney Disability Resource Center for a 30-minute discussion around disability history and why it matters– particularly in the context of a pandemic and as the U.S. wrestles with understanding its social biases. Dr. Kim Nielsen is a professor of Disability Studies, History, and Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Toledo (previously at UW Green Bay) and a 2013 Friends scholar. Her book Money Marriage, and Madness follows the life of Anna Ott, Madison’s first female physician who was involuntarily committed to Wisconsin’s State Hospital for the Insane in 1873.

Kim E. Nielsen, Professor of Disability Studies, History, and Women’s & Gender Studies.  Since earning her Ph.D. in History from the University of Iowa in 1996, Nielsen’s scholarship has centered on historical debates about who is fit to participate in civic life; using gender, disability, and changing notions of competency as her tools of analysis. Money, Marriage, and Madness, The Life of Anna Ott (UIP, 2020), Nielsen’s newest book, reveals much about power, the social structures of patriarchy and ableism, and the role of law in nineteenth century America. Other books include A Disability History of the United States (Beacon, Oct 2012), Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Beacon, 2009); Helen Keller: Selected Writings (NYUP, 2005); The Radical Lives of Helen Keller (NYUP, 2004); and Un-American Womanhood: Anti-Radicalism, Anti-Feminism, and the First Red Scare (OSUP, 2001). In 2010 the Organization of American Historians (OAH) honored Nielsen by appointing her a Distinguished Lecturer. Other awards include a Founders Award for Excellence in Teaching, an NEH Summer Fellowship, a 2005 OAH lectureship in Japan, and a Fulbright Scholars Award to the University of Iceland. Nielsen currently chairs the OAH Committee on Disability and Disability History, and was founding president of the Disability History Association. She recently arrived at the University of Toledo after fourteen years at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

We strive to ensure our events are inclusive and welcoming for all participants. If you need an accommodation, please contact

MAKE ME RAIN, by Nikki Giovanni

with conversation partner, Kiese Laymon

Thursday, October 15, 2020

7:00 PM

UW-Madison Libraries and the Friends are proud to partner with the Wisconsin Book Festival!

One of America’s most celebrated poets challenges us with this powerful and deeply personal collection of verse that speaks to the injustices of society while illuminating the depths of her own heart. For more than thirty years, Nikki Giovanni’s poetry has inspired, enlightened, and dazzled readers. As sharp and outspoken as ever, this artist long hailed as a healer and a sage returns with this profound book of poetry in which she continues to call attention to injustice and give readers an unfiltered look into the most private parts of herself.

Nikki Giovanni will appear live on Crowdcast in conversation with Kiese Laymon, author of HeavyJoin the event at: Before the event begins, you will see a countdown and the event image.

In Make Me Rain, she celebrates her loved ones and unapologetically declares her pride in her black heritage, while exploring the enduring impact of the twin sins of racism and white nationalism. Giovanni reaffirms her place as a uniquely vibrant and relevant American voice with poems such as “I Come from Athletes” and “Rainy Days”—calling out segregation and Donald Trump; as well as “Unloved (for Aunt Cleota)” and “”When I Could No Longer”—her personal elegy for the relatives who saved her from an abusive home life. Stirring, provocative, and resonant, the poems in Make Me Rain pierce the heart and nourish the soul.

JOSHUA CALHOUN: A discussion about his new book, The Nature of the Page

Thursday, September 24, 2020  

View the recording here.

In The Nature of the Page, Joshua Calhoun tells the story of handmade paper in Renaissance England and beyond. For most of the history of printing, paper was made primarily from recycled rags, so this is a story about using old clothes to tell new stories, about plants used to make clothes, and about plants that frustrated papermakers’ best attempts to replace scarce natural resources with abundant ones. Because plants, like humans, are susceptible to the ravages of time, it is also a story of corruption and the hope that we can preserve the things we love from decay.

Combining environmental and bibliographical research with deft literary analysis, Calhoun reveals how much we have left to discover in familiar texts.

Joshua Calhoun is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in Shakespeare, 16th- and 17th-century poetry, and the history of media. As a Faculty Affiliate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, he also teaches courses in the environmental humanities. In addition, he is Co-Director of Holding History, an interdisciplinary public outreach program at UW-Madison dedicated to mentoring the next generation of public scholars, thinkers, and writers. In his teaching and research, he gets to explore three things he loves (and thinks everyone else should love, too): Shakespeare, old books, and nature. His work has been published in PMLA, Shakespeare Studies, and Environmental Philosophy. The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and Ecology in Renaissance England, is his first book.  @awayandback

Shedding New Light on Old Maps – CANCELLED
Cartography in the European Enlightenment

Saturday, April 25, 2020
Science Hall, 550 N. Park St.
4 PM presentation (Room 180)
5 PM map display and reception (Room 310)

Please join Matthew Edney and Mary Pedley, editors of the newly published Cartography in the European Enlightenment, Volume Four of The History of Cartography, for an illustrated presentation and conversation on the art, craft, science, and techniques of maps and mapping between 1650 and 1800. We will adjourn to the Arthur H. Robinson Map Library to enjoy a map display and celebrate publication of Volume Four.

A small exhibit of Maps in Books of the European Enlightenment will also be presented by the Department of Special Collections (Room 980 Memorial Library, 728 State Street) from April 20–May 1, with special viewing hours on April 25 from 2–4 PM.

Parking is available at the Lake Street ramp or below Helen C. White Hall on Park Street.
To avoid stairs when accessing Science Hall use the rear entrance.
Cosponsors: Friends of the UW–Madison Libraries, History of Cartography Project, Arthur H. Robinson Map Library, UW Department of Special Collections, and the Wisconsin Book Festival.


JEN BERVIN: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems: Specifying Possibility – CANCELLED

Friday, April 3, 2020  

5-6 PM with Q&A Reception and Book Signing to follow

Memorial Library, Room 126

Emily Dickinson is a well known poet today but during her lifetime she withheld her work from publication, preferring to send roughly 300 poems directly to readers of her choice as enclosures in letters. Among the thousands of manuscript poems and letters she wrote, some are drafted on envelopes and other odd shapes of saved paper that show both Dickinson’s visual experimentation with compositions and her “variant” system—alternate readings of words or phrases within the poem preceded by a + mark.

Poet and visual artist Jen Bervin will talk about her work with Dickinson’s manuscripts which resulted in two major projects: The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope-Poems (with Marta Werner by Granary Books, 2012; New Directions, 2013) and The Dickinson Composites–an artist book involving a series of large-scale quilts Bervin made by embroidering the poet Emily Dickinson’s unusual punctuation markings from her fascicles. The UW-Madison Kohler Art Library’s copy of this work will be featured at the talk.



April 1-4, 2020

Memorial Library, Room 116

Thousands of books, great bargains, and always open to the public.

Come early for the best selection; come later for the best prices!

Find hours and other details here


SIGRID SCHULTZ – Investigative Reporter Who Predicted WWII


Lunch with Historian Dr. David Milne

  • 11:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.                                               
  • University Club, downstairs Banquet Room 
  • All are welcome! The meal is complimentary; space is limited.  R.S.V.P. here:  Sigrid Schultz Luncheon

Walking the Line as Tensions Grew:  American-born Sigrid Schultz worked in Berlin as the Chicago Tribune’s first female chief correspondent during the years following World War I.   Schultz quickly recognized Nazi Germany’s ambitions and cultivated connections with leading members of the party. Interviewing Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials, often writing under a pseudonym, Schultz presciently reported on the rising threat of the Nazi regime.

Dr. David Milne is a Professor of Modern History at the University of East Anglia, U.K. Dr. Milne will be conducting research in the Sigrid Schultz Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives with the support of a Mosse-Friends grant. He is working on a biography of Shultz, titled, Witness to Catastrophe. Please join us for lunch to answer intriguing questions such as:

How does one interview Hitler? How do you report about Nazism critically while avoiding deportation? How do you write such stories for an isolationist newspaper and editor? How do you act when you are the only woman in a room filled with Germany’s most powerful men? And how do you access that room in the first place?

This lunch-lecture is free and open to the public with R.S.V.P.

Funded by the Friends and the George L. Mosse Program


October 16-19, 2019

Memorial Library, Room 116

Thousands of books, great bargains, and always open to the public.

Come early for the best selection; come later for the best prices!

Find hours and other details here

DEEP RIVER, by Karl Marlantes

October 19, 2019

Madison Public Central Library – The Bubbler

6:00 PM

UW-Madison Libraries and the Friends are proud to partner with the Wisconsin Book Festival!

Marlantes draws glancing inspiration from his own family history to tell a story against the backdrop of a logging industry clashing with the radical burgeoning labor movement, World War I, and the upheavals of early twentieth century America.


REMEMBER ME: An Evening of Poetry & Piano in Celebration of Jazz Pianist Mary Lou Williams


The University Club, 803 State Street

  • 5:30-6:30 PM

Featuring Fabu Phillis Carter (poet) and Lawren Brianna Ware (pianist)

  • Calling all Jazz and poetry lovers!  Join us for an evening of original poetry read by Poet Fabu with Williams’ compositions played underneath by pianist Lawren Brianna Ware.  Refreshments will be served and the Mills Music Library will share a recording of Mary Lou Williams performing at the Wisconsin Union Theater following the performance.




    • 3:00-4:00 PM Discussion with Math Dept. Faculty, Staff & Students
      • “Character vs Gender in Mathematics and Beyond”
      • 911 Van Vleck Hall
    • 5:30-6:30 PM Public Presentation
      • “The Art of Logic: Using It to Find Clarity for Life’s Problems”
      • The Discovery Building, 330 Orchard Street, H.F. DeLuca Forum
    • 6:30-7:00 PM Reception & book signing immediately to follow

For thousands of years, mathematicians have used the timeless art of logic to see the world more clearly. Today, truth is buried under soundbites, spin, memes, divisive arguments and “fake news” and seeing clearly is more important than ever.  With appearances on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Ted Talks, YouTube sensation Dr. Eugenia Cheng will show how anyone can think like a mathematician to understand what people are really telling us. Taking a careful scalpel to politics, privilege, sexism and dozens of other real-world situations, she shows us that math is not just about numbers and equations, but is also about thinking better, and that it can help us find clarity without losing nuance in our complex world.

Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician and concert pianist. She is Scientist In Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and won tenure at the University of Sheffield, UK. She has previously taught at the universities of Cambridge, Chicago and Nice and holds a PhD in pure mathematics from the University of Cambridge. Alongside her research in Category Theory and undergraduate teaching her aim is to rid the world of “math phobia”.  The author of several books including “How to Bake Pi” and “Beyond Infinity,” her most recent book “The Art of Logic in an Illogical World” was published in 2018.


Presented in partnership with the UW-Madison Department of Mathematics 



  • 2:00-4:00 PM

Get a behind-the-scenes tour of this exciting state-of-the-art preservation facility!

The State Archives Preservation Facility (SAPF) is a 188,733-square-foot facility built to protect some of the state’s most important historical assets and provide secure and environmentally sophisticated conditions for our research collections. This facility houses all the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Madison-based museum collections, approximately 35% of its archival holdings, and 20% of its library collections. It also holds collections owned by the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, including motion picture collections of United Artists, RKO, and Warner Brothers.

Opportunities to tour this facility are rare! Be sure to register to reserve your space.    R.S.V.P. here

This is an hour-long walking tour so wear comfortable shoes. Bus transportation is provided: meet on the Langdon Street side of the WHS.

Presented by the Friends of UW-Madison Libraries in partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society


THURSDAY, MAY 16, 2019

Madison Public Central Library – Community Rooms 301-302

  • 5:30-8:00 PM

Since August 2017, the Lands We Share initiative has sought to use Wisconsin’s rich agricultural history as the basis for a project supporting community dialogue in three Wisconsin locations: Milwaukee County, Jefferson County, and several counties comprising northeast Wisconsin.  The initiative includes the development of a traveling multimedia pop-up exhibit and companion web tool to support, structure, capture, and ultimately disseminate nine community conversations (three in each of the three regions).

Join us in the grand culmination of this project, meet the participants, and hear the unique perspectives our our rural neighbors.  Refreshments will be served.


Presented in partnership with Madison Public Library and the Lands We Share Project (part of the UW-Madison Oral History Program)


April 10-13, 20198

Memorial Library, Room 116

Thousands of books, great bargains, and always open to the public.

Come early for the best selection; come later for the best prices!

Find hours and other details here



OPEN HOUSE with lecture by CURT MEINE



  • 2PM Exhibit viewing
  • 3PM Curt Meine, Biographer of Aldo Leopold & Senior Fellow at Aldo Leopold Foundation
  • 4PM Reception with refreshments provided by the Friends
  • RSVP Requested through the Aldo Leopold Foundation link below

Presented in partnership with Aldo Leopold Foundation and UW-Madison Special Collections

African American Pioneers: THE LEARNING TREE with discussion led by STEVE RYFLE

750 University Ave, Madison WI

  • 6 PM Discussion with Q&A by Steve Ryfle: “Desegregating Hollywood: Film and the Civil Rights Era”
  • Prior to the film, Steve Ryfle will provide context by highlighting some of the archival materials showing just how difficult it was for the Hollywood studios to address racial politics through film; to hire African-American filmmakers, writers, and cast; and how certain people within the industry worked actively to reverse decades of institutional racism. Steve Ryfle’s reporting and criticism has been published in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and other publications. A visiting independent scholar, Steve is in Madison on a Friends of the Libraries research grant, utilizing the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research to work on a nonfiction book project.
  • 7PM Film Screening of THE LEARNING TREE, a 1969 drama
  • THE LEARNING TREE, the directorial debut of legendary photojournalist and writer Gordon Parks, is adapted from his semi-autobiographical novel about his adolescent years in Fort Scott, Kansas. Parks became the first African American to direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros). This film depicts the coming-of-age of teenager Newt Winger (Johnson) in rural Kansas of the 1920s.

CAST:  Kyle Johnson, Alex Clarke, Estelle Evans, George Mitchell, Richard Ward, Malcolm Attenbury, Russell Thorson, Dana Elcar, Joel Fluellen

Presented in partnership with the Chazen Museum of Art and UW-Madison Cinematheque

Let’s Hear It For Book Arts!

November 8, 2018

Memorial Library, Room 126

5:00 – 6:00 PM

Existing for thousands of years, book art is simply using books as the creative medium for artistic expression beyond the written word. iSchool graduate student, Sarah Lange, has spent a year gathering and preserving the memories and reflections of student and faculty artists who contributed to the rich history of book arts on the UW-Madison campus between the 1970s and the present. What can we learn from those who practiced this unusual art form? Expect a lively presentation enhanced by voices of some interviewees, a handful of unique artists’ books on display, and plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

Presenters: Sarah Lange; Troy Reeves, Head, UW-Madison Oral History Program; and Lyn Korenic, Director, Kohler Art Library.

This is a collaborative project between the Kohler Art Library and the UW-Madison Oral History Program.

WE CAN’T BREATHE, by Jabari Asim

October 26, 2018

Madison Public Central Library – Community Rooms 301-302

7:00 PM

UW-Madison Libraries and the Friends are proud to partner with the Wisconsin Book Festival!

Jabari Asim discusses his powerful new book that lays bare the current black experience in America, using eight thought-provoking essays to challenge the reader to consider conventional ideas from the context of a legacy that remains ever resilient and hopeful despite racism and trauma.



October 16, 2018, Noon-1:00 PM

Steenbock Library BioCommons

Hear about Dr. Williams’ book project, Growing Rural Modernity: 4-H Clubs in America and the World, based on discoveries in the UW-Madison Archives!


October 10-13, 2018

Memorial Library, Room 116

Thousands of books, great bargains, and always open to the public.

Come early for the best selection; come later for the best prices!

Find hours and other details here:


September 27, 2018

Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State Street (Library Mall)

5:30 PM – Welcome

6:00 PM – Presentation

7:00 PM – Dessert and Book Signing

The Friends of UW-Madison Libraries 2018 Schewe lecture, presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Book Festival


September 24, 2018

University Club, 803 State Street (Library Mall)

Doors open at 5 PM, music begins at 6 PM

This early evening event with food and cash bar is free and open to the public.

Die Tanzgeiger is a traditional Austrian dance band with Upper Midwestern connections, including performances drawn from such UW Library holdings and co-productions as the Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recordings, the Wisconsin Folksong Collection, and Local Centers/Global Sounds.

Co-sponsored by the Friends of UW-Madison Libraries, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture, Mills Music Library and Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies.

For additional information about the Friends of the UW–Madison Libraries, contact:

Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries
330H Memorial Library
728 State Street
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 265-2505
Friends Contact Form