Colloquium Discusses Complexity of Ralph Ellison
The inaugural lecture of the Heimert Colloquium in American History and Literature was held on Oct. 14 in Butler Library and was introduced by Andrew Delbanco, Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities . In his talk "Ralph Waldo Ellison, New England and Black American Culture," Arnold Rampersad, dean of humanities and Sara Hart Kimball Professor of the Humanities at Stanford University, focused on the Ellison's complex relationship with the region and its history. Rampersand, who held the Zora Neale Hurston Chair at Columbia from 1988 to 1990, described the contrast in emotions that Ellison, author of The Invisible Man, struggled with in sorting out his relationship to Harvard and the larger American community. From watershed moments such as receiving an honorary doctorate as well as a job offer from Harvard to the long-term influence of transcendentalists such as his namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ellison is delicately portrayed as a man who drew influence from the chaotic nature of American life.
The colloquium is named in honor of Alan Heimert, who received his master's in 1950 from Columbia and influenced generations of students at Harvard, where he was master of Eliot House for more than 20 years. Students and friends funded the Heimert Colloquium at Columbia in his memory. His widow, Arline Grimes Heimert, donated his private library to the University; a portion of it is shelved in the American History and Literature Reading Room in 502 Butler. The Heimert Colloquium will take various forms in the future, from lectures to conferences and symposia.