Welcome to our film and media maker guest today

Thank you, Neill McKee, for honoring our Choices blog with your presence today. Also for writing us a guest post about how important writing about our careers and life stories is. Neill is currently on his Women on Writing book tour.

Here’a Neill:

The benefits of writing about your career and life story

by Neill McKee

As is documented in my travel memoir, early in my career, I became a filmmaker and later a multimedia producer. After 45 years of such work, I decided to switch to creative nonfiction. Many people become consultants in their specialized fields in their senior years, but I had little interest in that. I had all these stories in my head about my varied life: growing up in a small industrially-polluted town in Ontario, Canada, and learning how “to escape” its confinements and stinks; my searching years at university, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life; and then a dramatic transition when I became a volunteer teacher in Sabah, Malaysia on Borneo Island. That was followed by my life’s work in international development communication, living for a total of 18 years in Asia, Africa, and Russia, and visiting about 80 countries on short-term assignments. I wanted to write up these experiences and adventures before I forgot the details. I never kept a journal, but fortunately, my wife and I had saved many letters and I kept old trip reports, which I had embellished with many entertaining incidents during my travels. I also was able to find most of my films and multimedia creations online and put them on YouTube: https://www.neillmckeevideos.com. But how should I tackle all this in memoirs?


When I was still living in Maryland in 2013, I took an evening writing class at St. John’s College, Annapolis and when we moved to Albuquerque, I was lucky to register for two graduate seminars at the University of New Mexico, facilitated by a great teacher, Prof. Diane Thiel. That’s when I really got into creating the stories of my life in Borneo (Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah), my beginnings (Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth), and tracking down the entertaining tales of my ancestors in Canada and the U.S. (Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American Search Through Four Centuries of History, to the Mayflower). The latter two books were finished during the worst Covid-19 lockdown years, a productive time for many writers. The chief benefits of all this for me were helping me sharpen my long-term memory, revising connections with my extended family, old friends, and former colleagues in Canada, the U.S., and around the world. I also think I vastly improved my writing skills as I went along.


So, My University of the World is the last of my personal memoirs. It’s a little longer than the others but filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of places I visited/sojourns in and the people I worked with, plus over 200 images, all of which bring readers into the world I witnessed.


Book Summary

Neill McKee takes us on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. The story starts when he becomes a “one-man film crew,” documenting the lives of Canadian CUSO volunteers working in Asia and Africa as teachers, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, agriculturalists, foresters, and a biologist. He learns the craft of filmmaking and meets and marries Elizabeth “on the hoof.” The story is enlivened throughout by their challenges and adventures together, and Elizabeth’s growing artistic talent and creations.

Beginning in 1975, the young couple settles in Ottawa and starts a family, while Neill roams the world for Canada’s International Development Research Centre. His award-winning films depict the agency’s philosophy and search for solutions to problems in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, education, health, water and sanitation, and more. Then in 1990, McKee joins UNICEF in Bangladesh, and later in Africa, where he initiates long-lasting multimedia programs for child health, with a focus on empowering girls. In 2001, he moves to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and then to Moscow, Russia, where he oversees similar initiatives. That experience leads him to a memorable last post in Washington, D.C. as director of a large global communication project.

Throughout the short chapters and in a brief epilogue, McKee reflects on the long-term impact of the projects he documented and of his media creations. His memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places he visited, and many images, all of which bring readers into his “University of the World.”

ISBN-10: 1732945780
ISBN-13: 978-1732945784
Print Length: 522 Pages
Purchase a copy of My University of the World on Amazon or Bookshop.org. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

About the Author

Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My University of the World: Memoir of an International Film & Media Maker is a stand-alone sequel to his first travel memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah, which has won three awards. McKee holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary and a master’s degree in Communication from Florida State University. He worked internationally for 45 years, becoming an expert in the field of communication for behavior and social change. He directed and produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos, popular multimedia initiatives, and has written numerous articles and three books in the field of development communication. During his international career, McKee was employed by Canadian University Service Overseas (now CUSO International); the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada; UNICEF in Asia and Africa; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; the Academy for Educational Development and FHI 360, Washington, D.C. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments. In 2015, he settled in New Mexico, where he uses his varied experiences, memories, and imagination in creative writing.

Find Neill online:

Thank you, Neill. Huge success with your new nonfiction memoir!


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