February 6, 2012 Birthday Celebration for Ralph Ellison, March 1

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Robert Casper (202) 707-5394
Contact: Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6382 (voice/tty) or ada@loc.gov

Ralph Ellison is best known for writing “Invisible Man,” about an African-American who attempts to make sense out of his life, experiences and position in American society. The 1952 book transformed thinking about race, identity and what it means to be American.

The Library of Congress will celebrate the 98th birthday of Ellison with a reading and discussion of his work by award-winning authors Jabari Asim and Danielle Evans at noon on Thursday, March 1, in the Whittall Pavilion on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature a tabletop display and a short presentation by the Library’s Manuscript Division on its Ralph Ellison holdings. No tickets or reservations are needed.

Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Okla., on March 1, 1914. He enrolled in the Tuskegee Institute in 1933 to study music and departed three years later for New York City to immerse himself in sculpture and photography. It was there that Ellison met novelist Richard Wright, who encouraged him to pursue a career in fiction. His first novel, “Invisible Man,” won the National Book Award and garnered recognition as one of the great American novels of the 20th century.

Ellison went on to distinguish himself as an essayist, publishing “Shadow and Act” in 1964 and “Going to the Territory” in 1986, and as a scholar, teaching at Rutgers University, Yale University, Bard College and the University of Chicago. Several volumes of his writing have appeared posthumously, including the novel “Juneteenth.”

Asim and Evans, in addition to reading selections of Ellison’s prose, will discuss his influence on their own writing.

Asim is the author of “What Obama Means: … For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future” (2009); “The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why” (2007); a volume of short stories, “A Taste of Honey” (2010); and several children’s books. Asim serves as editor-in-chief of The Crisis, a journal of politics, ideas and culture published by the NAACP and founded by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1910, and he is a former editor at the Washington Post. He is an associate professor of writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College in Boston.

Evans is the author of a short-story collection “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self,” which received the 2011 PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize for a first book and was listed among the best books of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews and O Magazine. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, A Public Space and Callaloo, as well as “The Best American Short Stories” of 2008 and 2010. She is a professor of literature and creative writing at The American University in Washington, D.C.

The birthday celebration is sponsored by the Library’s Manuscript Division and the Poetry and Literature Center.

The Manuscript Division holds more than 61 million items, including the papers of 23 U.S. presidents, from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. For more information about the collections and holdings of the Manuscript Division, visit www.loc.gov/rr/mss/.

The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress fosters and enhances the public’s appreciation of literature. The center administers the endowed poetry chair (the U.S. Poet Laureate), and coordinates an annual literary season of poetry, fiction and drama readings, performances, lectures and symposia, sponsored by the Library’s Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund and the Huntington Fund. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/poetry/.


PR 12-034
ISSN 0731-3527