Flying Home: Ralph Ellison's Oklahoma
Norton, Robert William
This thesis explores Ralph Ellison's Oklahoma writings as a discrete intellectual project. Ellison's Oklahoma writings, primarily essays and lectures, remain a critically under-examined body of his artistic and intellectual output. These texts, a blend of published documents and archival manuscripts located in the Ralph Ellison Papers at the Library of Congress, offer valuable insights into Ellison's artistic and political views as they evolved in response to the increasing militancy of the 1960s and 70s. I assert that Ellison began to adopt his black Oklahoma history as a countermythic rejoinder to the artistic priorities, linguistic views, and historicism prevalent among black nationalist, Pan-African, and Third-Worldist movements which gained intellectual currency in these decades. In positing Oklahoma as a black frontier, Ellison created a usable past that could demonstrate the complexity and fluidity of American culture, which placed African Americans at the center of American cultural identity. But in writing about his Oklahoma experience, Ellison also performed important cultural history, documenting the unique culture of the black Oklahoma City community at a time when a black Oklahoma history had yet to be written.
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