In Remembrance: Darcy Mullen

October 29, 2020

Since joining the faculty of the Writing and Communication Program, Darcy worked closely with Serve-Learn-Sustain.  I remember researching the incoming Brittain Fellow cohort, reading with excitement about Darcy’s field-defining scholarship on food rhetorics and her commitment to food equity and hoping that she would find an intellectual and pedagogical home with SLS.  We are so honored and fortunate that she did. In her first semester at Tech, Darcy dove immediately into a richly productive partnership with the City of Atlanta, specifically with Aglanta, an urban farming and local food systems initiative. In recognition of the reach and fruits of that partnership, Darcy was nominated last year for a Civic Impact Award in Government Innovation as part of the Aglanta team.  Those awards celebrate leaders who are “tackling inequality by empowering and fighting for people and communities,” and Darcy was indubitably one of those leaders, as her scholarship, activism and teaching richly demonstrate. The evening of the awards ceremony, she wrote a post noting that recipients and attendees all offered the same answer to the question, “Why do you do this work?” Their reply—and Darcy’s: (capitalization is hers) “BECAUSE IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO BECAUSE WE CARE ABOUT PEOPLE!”

Darcy embodied that battle cry in her work, and in the energy and commitment she brought to forging partnerships based on food justice, gender and racial equity, public health, restorative justice, and economic empowerment—all of which boil down to, as Darcy insisted, caring about people. I once called Darcy the “idea factory,” and she seemed to feel that it resonated.  (When I visited her after one of several hospitalizations to address the endometriosis and chronic pain that she endured with consummate Darcy-like optimism, she had made a colorful, sticker-covered sign for me and placed it on the door: “Welcome to the Idea Factory!”) The richness and generosity of her intellect always led to yet another compelling symposium, collaboration, or scholarly article and manifested in her graphic writing, gardening, cooking, and mentoring. But the output of that busy, beautiful factory was nowhere more evident than in her teaching. To say that Darcy’s pedagogy was creative understates, profoundly, the imagination, whimsy, and joy that she brought to teaching and inspired in her students.  One example I love is an assignment that asked students to compose poems or stories from the first-person point of view of an ingredient in a recipe. (As part of the same course, students also created “recipe maps” illustrating where the foods that constitute dishes they love are sourced and grown; the poems they wrote narrated the journeys that the maps visualized.) In one of many email exchanges between us about her students’ work—which she nurtured and treasured—Darcy included two poems. I have excerpted from each of them below—the first about salt, the second about water.  

From “Evaporation Site to Shaker”

Far from my final resting place,

I begin my life in Kansas.

Beside my brethren, I lie patiently

As a deposit beneath the surface

Of the world.

From “Diverted”

Yes, I can sink ships.

Yes, I am a part of tearful goodbyes.

Yes, I am a part of raging storms.

But I am also what allows ships to sail.

I am a part of a set of joyful tears.

I am interwoven into the history of humans,

and I would like to stay that way.

So, I continue. Like I always have and always will.

I continue to rain, to flood, to bring joy.

Reading these students’ poems aloud, or picking herbs for a meal, or watching an anole change its color help me miss Darcy the way I think she would have wanted: attentive to the thousand little gifts that arise around us, attentive to the gift that we are to each other. I am- and we at SLS all are – so grateful for what Darcy taught us, shared with us, and sparked in us.  I’ll sign off the way Darcy did,

“Yours in poems about peppers, and the grit of corn,”