Part 1
Part 1


Photo: Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State.

Audio is available for conversation 1, tape 2.  The transcript of that tape is missing.

Transcripts, but not audio, are available for the remaining three tapes (conversation 1, tape 1; conversation 2, tape 1; conversation 2, tape 2).

At times Warren can be faintly heard but Ellison can be heard clearly throughout the interview.

Audio courtesy of Yale University.

Ralph Ellison

Feb. 25 [1964]
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Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison Bio

Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) was a writer and university professor. A native of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Ellison was named for the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison studied classical composition at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama from 1933 to 1936, when he moved to New York and began working with the Federal Writers Project. After serving as a cook in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Ellison wrote numerous short stories. Random House published Ellison's Invisible Man, a book that took him seven years to complete. The book, which is an account of a young African American's awakening to racial discrimination, received much acclaim and won the National Book Award for fiction in 1953. Ellison befriended Robert Penn Warren while the two were both in residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1956 and 1957. Ellison taught creative writing at New York University and also taught at numerous other institutions, including Bard College and Yale University. At the time of his death, Ellison had been working on a second novel for forty years. His second novel, Juneteenth, was published posthumously in 1999 under the editorship of his literary executor.


Ellison discusses Du Bois's theory of African American's "double consciousness," concluding that African Americans must determine how they might influence the American culture that is one-half of their consciousness. He suggests that it is fully possible to be proud of one's African American heritage and to wish for full absorption into American culture. Ellison expresses displeasure with commentators who claim that African Americans have recently discovered their courage. Ellison and Warren discuss whether and how integration will change the South and southerners, and they consider whether integration will differ by section. Ellison explains African American resentment of white people who adopt or appropriate African American cultural forms. He also discusses the nature of African American leadership of the civil rights movement. Ellison contends that there has been a shift in white attitudes toward African Americans. He voices support for nonviolence, claiming that there is power in humility. Ellison also discusses African American identity and African American families.


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