Faculty Farewells

William “Willy” Melvin Kelley, 1937–2017

William “Willy” Melvin KelleyWilliam “Willy” Melvin Kelley (writing, 1989–2017) spent his life intrepidly exploring themes of identity, race, and connection in the novels, short stories, and films that bear his trademark originality. He was as prolific as he was gifted.

During the 1960s, he published a collection of short stories, Dancers on the Shore (1964), and three novels: A Different Drummer (1962), A Drop of Patience (1965), and dem (1967). In his obituary, The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Kelley blended fantasy and fact to construct an alternative world whose sweep and complexity drew comparisons to James Joyce and William Faulkner.”

Such comparisons helped Kelley transcend what he called in a 2012 interview “the literary ghetto, where African American writers are only compared to other African American writers.” Like Faulkner, Kelley’s writing often featured minor characters who would later resurface in other fiction, their stories told with greater nuance and detail.

Brian Morton ’78, director of the writing program, describes Kelley as “a peerless storyteller, both on the page and in person.” Kelley’s scores of students benefited from his experimental approach to writing and life. In a published tribute, Eli Rosenblatt ’06 reflected, “Willy inspired in me a self-reliance and will to originality. ...”

“... a peerless storyteller, both on the page and in person.”

Kelley certainly carried storytelling in his genes. His father, William M. Kelley, was an editor for the Amsterdam News. His maternal grandmother, a former slave, told family history narratives, such as the story of his great-great-grandfather, a white Confederate colonel who had been killed in the Civil War. Married to Sarah Lawrence alumna and artist Aiki Gibson Kelley ’62, Willy Kelley was also an avid photographer and filmmaker.

Among his many accolades, Kelley was honored by the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and received the 2008 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, which recognizes authors whose work has contributed to racial understanding and cultural diversity.

Fanchon “Fan” Miller Scheier MFA ’76, 1929–2017

Fanchon “Fan” Miller Scheier MFA ’76Only connect! Fanchon “Fan” Miller Scheier (theatre, 1985–2016) was known for reciting this well-known line from Howard’s End in her classes. Throughout her life, she embodied its timeless wisdom, forging robust, meaningful, and close relationships with her students and colleagues. Says Christine Farrell, program director, “We were her other family.”

In her artistic life, as a director and actor, Scheier connected profoundly with her collaborators and—perhaps most notably—with the truest places inside herself. Her natural authenticity brought a stunning clarity to her work. Shirley Kaplan, former director of the theatre program, recalls feeling an instant kinship and relating to one of Scheier’s guiding philosophies: “The deeper you go, the more honest you are.”

Scheier inspired candor, sincerity, and enthusiasm in her students. “She could motivate any student to be truly honest onstage, and I so admired that,” Farrell says. “Fan was a master.”

Scheier taught several classes, including “Improvisational Lab,” which many students enrolled in more than once. She shared of herself and her hard-won wisdom generously, without qualification or filter.

“She could motivate any student to be truly honest onstage. ...”

In Scheier, generations of students and artists found a relentless champion. Long after graduation, her protégés kept in touch, sharing their successes and struggles. As fellow theatre faculty member William “Dave” McCree MFA ’81 notes, Scheier was known for “pushing her students better than any agent.”

In addition to being a tremendous educator, Scheier founded the In Stages theatre company and was a member of the Robert Lewis Acting Company and Green Gate Theatre. Before she married husband Saul Scheier and moved to Westchester County, she also enjoyed a busy acting career in New York City. In Hastings, New York, where she resided, Scheier was a supporter of the Creative Arts Council and also led theatre workshops for children.