Nancy Jean Holland died with a head full of books.
Not the scholarly tomes of the phenomenologists Martin Heidegger or Jacques Derrida, on which she’d built a 36-year career as a professor at Hamline University. But rather, the collections of romance and fantasy novels, like those she wrote on the side and after her retirement in 2017.
Liz Selvig, her critique partner with Midwest Fiction Writers, a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America, said Holland was gratified to see several of her books published before she died Jan. 25 at the age of 72 from “nonsmokers’ ” lung cancer. The organization recognized Holland as its 2019 Writer of the Year.
But less than two weeks before her death, Holland lamented that she had more to say.
“She said, ‘I have tons of stories in my head, they just won’t come out,’ ” Selvig said.
Holland particularly liked writing stories featuring billionaire men who lose love and rediscover it in strong women like herself, Selvig said.
A California native, Holland graduated from Stanford University and went on to earn a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Jeff Koon. Hamline offered Holland a job in 1981 but didn’t like the image of the couple living together, Koon said, so “we kind of hurried our marriage along.” He said he was sorry that they had so little time after her retirement to travel together before the cancer struck.
Duane Cady, a former chair of Hamline’s Philosophy Department, said Holland had looked forward to having more time for romance and fantasy writing, “but that was cut short by her untimely death.” At Hamline, Cady said, Holland developed a national and international profile that benefited the university and its students.
“I would say she was a really serious scholar and in some ways set the bar higher for the undergraduate faculty at Hamline, both in terms of her own work but also in terms of doing some encouragement and teaching others,” he said. “She was a really good friend, very dedicated to her work and to the institution.”
Holland had served as chair of Hamline’s Philosophy Department, as Hanna Chair in Philosophy, as director of women’s studies and as president of the Faculty Council. She won the Grimes Outstanding Teacher Award in 2000 and twice won the Conger Prize for outstanding scholarly work in the humanities. She also was a peer reviewer and served in various roles in the American Philosophical Association and the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.
She wrote four scholarly books — “Is Women’s Philosophy Possible?,” “The Madwoman’s Reason,” “Ontological Humility: Lord Voldemort and the Philosophers,” and “Heidegger and the Problem of Consciousness.”
“She loved Harry Potter,” said her son, Justis Koon, who’s studying for his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Holland published three romance novels: “Owed: One Wedding Night”; “Found: One Secret Baby”; and “A Christmas Romance.” She also wrote “The Witch King” trilogy, a fantasy series, one volume of which won a PRISM award from Romance Writers of America.
Wendy Koon, described her mother as “very committed” to her work as a philosopher.
“She wasn’t particularly religious, but she said she went to church [at Hamline] until she got tenure,” Wendy Koon said. “She wanted to be seen as someone professional without any detracting factors. I hope I can look back and think that I’ve struck a good balance in my life and contribute like she did.”
No services will be held.