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A self-described modest upbringing in rural Kentucky couldn't keep Nell Sullivan, associate English professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, from pursuing her dream of a college education and a career immersed in literature.
"I was one of nine children," Sullivan said. "My mom instilled in us the idea that we were not wealthy and that college was only possible with scholarships."
Through dedication and hard work Sullivan received scholarships to attend Vanderbilt University for a bachelor's in English and Rice University for a doctorate in English. Her background also attracted her to Southern American literature while at Vanderbilt.
"Vanderbilt is a predominately upper-middle-class school and it was there I first realized how much money there was in the world and how much money I did not have," Sullivan said. "I soon came to love reading Southern American literature because more people like me are represented. This genre is a beautiful body of work. It is sad and haunting and I enjoy reading about characters that I can relate to."
Sullivan explains that prior to the 20th century, lower-class people were stereotyped, criticized or given minor characters in American novels, which were primarily middle-class luxuries.
"I'm fond of 20th century Southern literature because race and social classes interact there more than any other regional American literature," Sullivan said.
She sees parallels among the literature she loves, her life and her students. "I love our students and love the fact that they rise to the challenges they're faced with in life," she said. "I can relate to that."
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Last updated or reviewed on 8/9/11