This coming Saturday I'm going to be back in Oklahoma City for a conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ralph Ellison's birth. This is part of the MELUS [Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States] Conference, which is focused around Ellison's essay "Going to the Territory" this year. I'm deeply interested in "Going to the Territory," which was given at Brown in 1979 and spoke about Ellison's time in Oklahoma and how Oklahoma was in many ways different from the rest of the south. Different, in that the patterns of deference so prevalent in the south weren't so present in Oklahoma -- thus there was opportunity for race mixing and for advancement. But then again there were extraordinary episodes of violence and, of course, the Klan. The conference is at Oklahoma City's Skirvin Hotel, where Ellison worked in his youth. I'm really looking forward to the discussion -- I'm going to be talking about the context of race and law in Ellison's Oklahoma, starting with the Tulsa riot of 1921 and moving forward to Roscoe Dunjee, who was one of Ellison's mentors and also was a key figure in the Oklahoma branch of the NAACP, and the road to Brown. There are, I think, a lot of parallels between Invisible Man and Brown and Ellison has a lot to say about the rule of law as well.
The organizers have put together a fabulous discussion -- the line-up is as follows:
Judge Robert Henry Opening Remarks
Video Greeting by John Callahan, Ellison's Literary Executor
African Drumming by Sidick Cammara
Roundtable #1 Ellison the Person, Ellison the Oklahoman, Ellison Beyond
- Phyllis Bernard, Arnold Rampersad, and me
Roundtable #2: Ellison the Writer
- Ken Warren, Adam Bradley, Eric Sundquist
- Steven Tracy plays blues harmonica
Roundtable 3: Ellison and the Arts
- Steven Tracy, Todd Bryant Weeks, Cheryl Wall
Roundtable #4: What Ellison’s Work and Life Mean for Us Today
- Danielle Allen, Amrit Singh, Arnold Rampersad
The rest of the MELUS program is here. Today's Daily Oklahoman has a nice write-up about the conference here. And here's an Oklahoman article on Deep Deuce, the center of the African American community in Oklahoma City in the 1920s and 1930s (and I guess running up to the 1960s).
Here is an audio file of my talk at the Ellison symposium.