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The Letters of Ralph Ellison: “Who Knows But That On the Lower Frequencies I Speak For [Me]?”

Date: 5:00pm PST November 19, 2014 Location: Miller Hall, Room 102

Miller Hall, Room 102

Ralph Ellison’s letters are fascinating.   Written over 60 years from his college days at Tuskegee in 1933 to shortly  before his death in April 1994, the letters, directly and indirectly, provide rich commentary on American society as it evolved from a Jim Crow, still largely rural society to an urban digital America where integration had long since become the law of the land, if not its reality.  Ellison’s letters are a complex portrait of his development as a man who insisted that his identity was indelibly black (Negro was his word of choice into the 1980s) and American.  Many of his letters also offer some of his most candid, incisive comments about what he was striving for in his fiction, both the classic, Invisible Man, and the immense second novel he left unfinished at his death.


Professor John Callahan will discuss how Ellison’s letters, when published in 2016, will become an indispensable autobiographical source for new interpretations of his essays and fiction as well as for understanding the America he lived in and helped shape.  The letters will be the centerpiece of the ENG 333-2 Major Figures course Callahan is teaching this coming spring.