My University of the World by Neill McKee: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, January 08, 2024


My University of the World by Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee joins us together with a blog tour of his memoir My University of the World It's perfect for readers interested in travel memoirs and reading about exciting exotic careers. We'll be sharing more information about Neill's book and giving you a chance to win a copy for yourself.

But first, here's more about My University of the World:

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

You can purchase a copy on Amazon or Make sure you add it to your GoodReads reading list, too.

About the Author, Neill McKee

Neill McKee
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:

Author's digital library: (These are most of the film and media projects covered in the memoir – produced by the author from 1970 to 2012.)

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your memoir! I'm so excited to have you back with us. What inspired your memoir My University of the World?

Neill: My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker is largely a travel memoir on my career from 1970 to 2012. I felt I had to write it to complete my life story. It complements the other three memoirs I have written, starting in 2013. All four are completely stand-alone stories about my varied life and my roots: my beginnings in a small industrially-polluted Canadian town, and my searching university years (Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth), my first overseas job in Malaysia on the Island of Borneo (Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah), 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). My University of the World focuses on my growth as a filmmaker and multimedia producer but includes compelling stories about my long-distance engagement to an American woman I met in Japan in 1970, our humorous marriage in Africa in 1972, plus our family life in Ottawa as I roamed the world making films. My work took us to live in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia, as Elizabeth became an accomplished artist (I included some of her work in my book). I hope this memoir inspires younger people to strive to make a difference in the world, recognizing that it’s a much different world today, where distant horizons are much closer, electronically. 
WOW: I truly believe you have done just that. You have done such an incredible job compiling the details of your life and career. How did you do that with such vivid detail? 

Neill: I never kept a journal but I stored a lot of stories in my head over the years. I wrote up some of them at the time they happened and kept a file. I found many more interesting incidents in old letters to and from my fiancée/wife and my family, official trip reports (which I always tried to make entertaining, including all the humorous and frustrating happenings along the way), and I had the benefit of viewing most of the film and other media products I created or dreamed up. Of course, I checked with my wife’s memory and the memories of former colleagues, with whom I am still in touch, to make sure crucial details are correct or added details I’d forgotten. I also did online research to find out what impact the people and projects I covered or created had over the years. Surprisingly, I found quite a lot of positive results.

WOW: That's wonderful people had remembered so much as well! I am so impressed that you had the photos to share for this memoir. How did you decide which photos to share and which ones to leave out?

Neill: I had some digital photos from the year 2000 onwards, but the bulk of the images came from my earlier career—family albums, images I extracted from my 16mm films, artwork from my media projects and the books I wrote, and the many photos I took for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa, Canada from 1975 to 1988, while making about 30 films. After I completed my manuscript in the summer of 2022, I traveled to Ottawa to go through IDRC’s collection of about 40,000 35mm, color slides. I found them in drawers in a storage room and spent four days inspecting almost every one of them, matching photos to my stories. Fortunately, the slides were still in immaculate condition thanks to Kodak’s great Kodachrome emulsion. My IDRC facilitator allowed me to take all I wanted home to Albuquerque to make final choices and return them after scanning those I wanted. My trip to Ottawa was just in time for the agency was in the process of moving and they were considering throwing out this valuable historical collection! I cut out quite a few images in the final design process for there would have been too many pages. I combined many into film strips, set in the top corners of some pages. My pre-publication reviewers ask me to retain as many photos as possible, after all the book is about film and media making.

WOW: Your entire process is amazing. It's such an incredible memoir but also extensive. How do you plan and prepare for such an lengthy writing process?

Neill: I read all the trip reports and letters, extracting major themes and ideas. I had electronic files of some of my old films and media productions, and managed to find more online or in film archives. I worked in 16mm educational film format until 1988, and these films were transferred to video format in the early 1990s, when such transfers were not of great quality. But when I viewed them again, I discovered many more ideas for scenes, quotations, and dialog. I also created a digital library of my main films, media projects, and communication books and articles, for easy access and for others who may be interest:  The videos are posted on YouTube and I now have 12,400 subscribers to my YouTube channel. My memoir follows my main productions, chronologically, with a few “meanwhile at the home front” chapters and stories blended in. I left out boring office organizational details, and focused on my travel adventures, anecdotes, and descriptions of the great people who mentored me or for whom, or on whom, I made films, including Canadian volunteers, filmmakers, and developing country scientists and activists. They were the teachers in “My University of the World.” 

WOW: I hope people watch those videos! You have lived such an amazing life, filled with eye-opening travel and events. What has inspired you the most about these experiences? 

Neill: The people mentioned above inspired me, as well as the organizations I worked for—all trying to make the world a better place in different ways. I also think I had a lot of luck. Early in my career I was a “lone-wolf filmmaker,” learning camera work through feedback, and editing with the help of a wonderful intelligent woman in an Ottawa studio. But after 15 years of such work, winning a number of film awards for IDRC, I was given a fully paid sabbatical year to do an M.S. in Communication at Florida State University (FSU). There I learned about the power of using communication for lasting behavior and social change, plus the need to get it right through audience research. That led me, in 1990, to become the chief of the communication team for UNICEF in Bangladesh. This was an amazing transition for me and my family. I was inspired by all the possibilities and chances to innovate in different media, using what I had learned at FSU.

Shortly after joining, I traveled to Prague in then Czechoslovakia to attend a conference on the role of animated film in addressing development problems. There I met Bill Hanna of Hanna Barbera Productions (creator of Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, etc.) along with the inspirational Executive Director of UNICEF, James P. Grant, who challenged me to come up with an idea to work with Hanna Barbera. That’s when I dreamed up the idea of Meena, an empowered cartoon and comic book girl who cleverly fights against female discrimination in health, education, and social issues. Back in Bangladesh, I raised donor money and put together a team to do much research and create a series of entertaining educational stories that eventually became part of South Asian culture. The Meena Communication Initiative is still operating in some parts of the region after 30 years and is celebrated annually on September 24, “Meena Day.” Of all my projects, I believe this one had the greatest impact and longevity. Today, I get weekly YouTube messages from young women and men who were inspired by the Meena stories in their childhood years.   

WOW: That must be so inspiring. For those who have read your previous memoirs, what makes this one different? 

Neill: This memoir is the culmination of all my previous experiences. I was a restless mischievous child, always “on the go,” a rebellious youth who didn’t pay much attention to school, but I was changed with the help of mentors in senior high school. I was quite lost in university, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, but was influenced by two graduate students, one from Southern Rhodesia and one from Egypt. All these experiences led me to search for faraway greener fields and I ended up teaching high school in Borneo in 1968, where I “found myself,” and where I made my first film, which started me on an adventuresome international career I felt compelled to write about—My University of the World

WOW: How amazing is that! What are you working on now?

Neill: For the last year I have been reading about the history of New Mexico and the Southwest of U.S.: the first settlement by humans during the last Ice Age 15,000 to 20,000 years ago; the appearance of the Ancestral Puebloans and their great architectural creations such as Chaco Canyon, and with repeated droughts, the move by their descendants the Rio Grande Valley; the coming of the Navajo and Apache native groups between 900 and 1525 C.E. from what is now Northwest Canada and Alaska; the invasion of the Spanish in 1540 and eventual subjugation, and partial conversion of most native American tribes; the invasion by Anglos and U.S.’s Army of the West in 1846; the Civil War period and its aftermath, finally leading the statehood in 1912. I live in the 5th largest U.S. state with a small but diverse population, ethnically, where, in addition to English, Spanish and about 20 native American languages are spoken. Anglos only make up about 36 percent of the population. Hispanic and Latino are the largest group and I have met quite a few real characters with lots of stories. I am planning a book on exploring this diverse state with descriptions of the people I have met/will meet, blended with the history and descriptions of historical happenings/sites in this sunny land of mountains, deserts, forests, scrub lands, and oases like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I’m just in the formulation stage and don’t know the exact direction I will take. 

WOW: I can't wait to see what you publish next. Best of luck on your tour and the book!

My University of the World by Neill McKee Blog Tour

--- Blog Tour Calendar

January 8th @ The Muffin
Join us at The Muffin as we celebrate the launch of Neill's memoir My University of the World. Read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of his incredible memoir.

January 13th @ Michelle Cornish' blog
Visit Michelle's blog for Neill McKee's guest post about his rationale for self-publishing.

January 13th @ Hasty Book List
Visit Ashley's blog for an interview with memoirist Neill McKee.

January 15th @ World of My Imagination
Nicole shares her review of Neill McKee's memoir My University of the World.

January 18th @ Knotty Needle
Judy shares her thoughts about Neill McKee's My University of the World.

January 20th @ A Wonderful World of Books
Visit Joy's blog for her spotlight of Neill McKee's My University of the World.

January 23rd @ Sara Trimble's blog
Sara shares her thoughts about Neill McKee's memoir My University of the World

January 25th @ Pick a Good Book
Debbie shares her review of Neill McKee's My University of the World

January 27th @ Word Magic
Fiona shares a guest post by Neill McKee about his successful film and media creation.

January 30th @ Mother Daughter Book Club
Visit Cindy's blog for her review of Neill McKee's memoir My University of the World.

February 1st @ What is That Book About?
Visit Michelle's blog for her feature of My University of the World.

February 3rd @ Chit Chat With Charity
Visit Charity's blog for her review of My University of the World.

February 5th @ Choices
Visit Madeline's blog for a guest post by Neill McKee about the benefits of writing about your career and life story.

February 7th @ Sara Trimble's blog
Visit Sara's blog again for a guest post by Neill McKee about juggling a demanding creative career.

February 9th @ Free to be Me
Visit Leslie's blog for her thoughts about My University of the World by Neill McKee.

February 10th @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Visit Jill's blog for her review of My University of the World by Neill McKee.

February 11th @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Join Jill for her interview with Neill McKee about his latest memoir.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

Enter to win a print copy of the memoir, My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film and Media Maker by Neill McKee. Fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win. The giveaway ends January 21st at 11:59 pm CT. We will draw a random winner the next day and announce in the Rafflecopter widget and also follow up via email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Wanda B said...

I absolutely would LOVE to read more of your film adventures. Sounds so fascinating!

Ashley S said...

This sounds interesting, and different from most things I've read.

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