The 2003 Alumni Award of Excellence recipient, John Purdy, Ph.D., is not new to recognition marking his achievements in American Indian studies. Currently a professor of English at Western Washington University, Purdy’s research and teaching of Native American literature have earned him three Fulbright Awards to Germany and New Zealand and support from the National Endowment for the Humanities for three summer school teacher seminars. In 2001, he received the WWU Olscamp Faculty Research Award, which, according to a WWU colleague, typically is given to professors with many more years in their field.
Purdy graduated from Western Oregon University in 1978 with a bachelor of arts degree in English. He earned his master’s degree in English from the University of Idaho in 1980 and his doctoral degree in English from Arizona State University in 1986.
Over the past decade, Purdy has delivered more than 20 scholarly papers to audiences in the United States, Germany, Greece, Mexico, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy and Austria. He has authored and published three books and 11 academic journal articles, as well as being invited to write 12 book chapters. From 1987 to 1995, he edited the primary journal in his field, “A.S.A.I.L (Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures) Notes.” His book, “The Legacy of D’Arcy McNickle: Writer, Historian, Activist,” is the first major publication on this notable 20th Century Native American.
WOU Humanities Chair and English Professor, Curt Yehnert keeps a copy of Purdy’s anthology of Native American literatures, “Nothing but the Truth,” in his reference library. “I had no idea that its editor was a WOU grad,” Yehnert said. “This is wonderful to learn.”
What made Purdy, a non-Native American, devote his life to Native American studies? “Montana Rickards Walking Bull,” he says. “She was an English professor at OCE when I was there.” Walking Bull, a nationally recognized scholar and author of Native American literature, introduced Purdy not only to the study of writing about Native Americans, but to writing by Native Americans as well. “Later, when I was teaching at the University of Oregon, she and her husband visited my Introduction to Native American Literature class.” Purdy recalls.
Purdy is currently working on his next publication, a multi-genre collection of writings on how people have conceptualized Oregon over its 150-year history. A native of the Scio/Stayton area, he’s using diaries of Oregon Trail settlers in that region. He’s also including writings as diverse as letters to the Statesman Journal, ethnographic essays, and inscriptions on the State Capitol walls. A preliminary working title is “The Meaning of Oregon.”
While Purdy is honored to be named recipient of the WOU Alumni Award of Excellence, he points out there are so many others from his class who went on to do great things. These are “the people who worked so hard in the public school system,” he says. Married to Cynthia (Walker) Purdy, WOU (OCE) class of ’77, who teaches the 5th and 6th grades, he sees firsthand the time, hours and energy these teachers devote to their classrooms. “Their contributions to education are just as important as mine.”
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