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WCU Stories

Late writer, Cherokee Studies leader at WCU to be honored with marker

By Geoff CantrellRobert Conley

Robert Conley

The late Robert J. Conley, author and former Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University, will receive a historical marker in his hometown of Cushing, Oklahoma, commemorating his literary achievements.

Conley, an award-winning author in numerous genres and a Native American historian, died in 2014 in Sylva at the age of 73. Appointed to the WCU professorship in July 2008, he was an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Conley said that accepting the WCU position and moving to the mountains was like coming home, because “North Carolina is home to all Cherokees.”    

A dedication ceremony of the marker will be held Saturday, Nov. 7, by the Friends of the Cushing Public Library, the Cushing Public Library and the Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma.

“Robert was an important friend and mentor to many faculty, staff and students at Western Carolina University, as well as a vocal advocate for the preservation and promotion of Cherokee culture both in Oklahoma and on the Qualla Boundary,” said Richard Starnes, WCU provost.

In his lifetime, Conley was a prolific writer, the author of more than 80 books, short stories and poems. Posthumous works are pending publication. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2014 Western Writers of America’s Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature, induction to the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame in 1996, and recipient of a lifetime achievement award in 2009 from the Oklahoma Center for the Book.

“I believe it is important that a Cherokee author is honored in such a way. It is a worthy homage and wonderful tribute to Robert and his work,” said Evelyn Conley, his widow. “He truly deserves it.”

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