Polly E. Bugros McLean is associate professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she has served as director of Women and Gender Studies and as the faculty associate to the chancellor. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Chancellor’s Committee on Women Award, the Chancellor’s Equity and Excellence Award, Robert L. Stearns Award, and the Edward R. Murrow Award for teaching excellence. In 1999 and 2000 she was a Senior Fulbright Scholar to the University of Namibia.
The following is an interview with Polly E. Bugros McLean.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
A 1993 headline of a Rocky Mountain News article that said, “She was CU’s First Black female grad: A pioneer buried without a headstone.” What sparked my interest was not Lucile being a “first” (which is changeable) but her being buried without a headstone. I knew that slaves and prisoners were buried without grave markers. Also, in pre-planning end of life, a person or family could make such a decision. For example, Roy Orbison is buried in an unmarked grave. I simply wanted to know why was she buried without a headstone. What I discovered at the beginning of my journey, which really pushed my curiosity, is that in 1954, Lucile bought her cremation plot and a grave marker with her name and date of birth on it at Fairmount Cemetery. She lived an additional thirty-five years. Shortly before she died in 1989, her plot was sold and her grave marker destroyed. It was this discovery that led me to study her life and to write this book.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Walter Rodney, Franz Fanon, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Audrey Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson George, Stephen King.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
This excerpt gives a great overview of the kind of woman Lucile was, and the personal, local, national, and social history that occurred and impacted her lifetime. It should pique people’s interest to learn more about her and her family in the book.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
The most fun I had was combining qualitative techniques: ethnographic research and historical research. The blending of these two methods were most rewarding. As I was in the field, walking the pathways where she walked, attending the church she belonged to in Denver, speaking to people in the communities where she lived, I was always struck how Lucile’s story touched people, which led them to either share their own stories with me or begin their own historical journey.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
The last chapter, “The End of the Living Line.” It was emotionally taxing to write about the double suicide of Lucile’s great nieces—the last of the Buchanan line in Colorado.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
How a mixture of African Americans from the south (often emancipated slaves) and early European immigrants in Denver were often able to live peacefully amongst each other.
What project are you working on next?
A documentary film, “The Calling,” about the 123 Coloradoans who went to the last leg of the Selma/Montgomery March on March 25, 1965.