Gift from former student supports Creative Nonfiction Program at UNO

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The gift establishes the John J. McKenna Graduate Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction and the John J. McKenna Undergraduate Scholarship in Creative Nonfiction.

A recent gift from The Kinney Family Foundation to the University of Nebraska Foundation honors individuals who were instrumental in the development of the English Department’s Creative Nonfiction Program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and supports the current program and its students.

The gift establishes the John J. McKenna Graduate Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction and the John J. McKenna Undergraduate Scholarship in Creative Nonfiction. One fellowship and one scholarship will be awarded annually to eligible students. The awards will provide full tuition for one academic year, plus a book stipend.

The gift also establishes the Yvette Kinney Creative Nonfiction Program Fund, which will provide $15,000 annually to further the mission of the creative writing program and assist in bringing the creative nonfiction programs at UNO to national prominence.

The fellowship and scholarship are named for Dr. John McKenna, one of the founders of the English department’s creative nonfiction program at UNO. A professor emeritus of English, he taught at UNO for more than 40 years and was a mentor to Yvette Kinney, chair of The Kinney Family Foundation.

“The Kinneys’ gift will help elevate our program to reach national visibility,” said John Price, director of the UNO English Department’s Creative Nonfiction Program. “Long before they made this gift, Yvette’s positive influence was felt in our department and now will continue to be for many years to come. I can’t help but wonder how many books will be the result of this family’s generosity, and I sincerely thank them for their support of this program.”

Kinney was the first student at UNO to earn the English department’s Graduate Certificate in Advanced Writing.

“I am thankful for the education and experiences I had as a result of being part of the program, the relationships I found while attending UNO and the help I received from Dr. McKenna while I was there,” said Kinney. “My granddad taught me many years ago that if someone helps you, you pay it forward. What better way of doing that than keeping Dr. McKenna’s legacy of helping students alive for the coming generations of students.”

A native of Missouri, Kinney received a bachelor’s degree in education from Central Missouri State University in 1978. In 2000, she enrolled in the master’s program at UNO. While pursuing her master’s degree in English, she approached McKenna about developing a certification program for graduate level writing.

McKenna worked with his colleagues and the administration to create the advanced writing certificate. The program was made official in 2003 and Kinney became the first student to graduate with the certificate.

“The Kinneys’ generosity is commendable beyond belief, and they are making a difference with their fund,” said McKenna. “I can scarcely conceive of the good fortune of the students who will benefit. It is an exciting time for the English Department and the creative nonfiction program. UNO has the faculty, the courses, the students and now, with the Kinney Foundation gift, it has the support to make this program a nationally recognized center for creative nonfiction.”

A widely published poet, McKenna is author of Wind and Water, a book of poems detailing his love of the outdoors, his family, his friends and his students. McKenna’s poem, “At the Japanese Gardens,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize – the preeminent poetry prize for publication in literary magazines. His poems have appeared in more than 50 mainstream and literary magazines, including Ideals Magazine, Hawaii Review, Louisville Review, Midwest Quarterly and Nebraska Life.

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