By Francis Donnelly /// Staff Writer
Last Friday and Saturday, Lewis & Clark College hosted the Ralph Waldo Ellison Symposium, with many preeminent Ellison scholars from around the country in attendance. The symposium was held in commemoration of the centennial of Ellison’s birth. With presenters from institutions such as Columbia University, to academics from Oklahoma, the symposium was a meeting of minds with a shared fascination with Ellison’s life and work. From Professor Eric Sundquist of University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s literary analysis, to Professors Morel of Washington Lee University and Professor Beavers of University of Pennsylvania’s more political perspectives, to the biographical sketches offered by the panel Friday afternoon, an overarching theme of the symposium was the continuing relevance of Ellison’s words in the modern world.
Following a reception on Friday night in Watzek Library to showcase the Ellison exhibit put up by Watzek Library’s archive staff, there was a dinner in Stamm with students and presenters
For the final address of the evening 1990, National Book Award Winner Charles Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, spoke on his meeting with Ellison when he received the award. In the talk he urged the audience not to read Ellison’s “Invisible Man” on a “surface or pedestrian level,” and emphasized the thematic struggle to “live authentically.” Johnson delivered an excellent address; his voice was mesmerizing and his content purposeful.
While the subject of the symposium’s academic content was Ralph Ellison, the real focus of the weekend was recognizing the decades of work by LC professor emeritus John F. Callahan. Callahan is Ellison’s literary executor, meaning he is responsible for the compilation, editing and posthumous publishing of Ellison’s works. As the moderator Marc Connor, of Washington and Lee University, put it: The goal of the weekend was to thank Callahan as profusely and often as possible. The community of Ellisonians all paid respects to the distinguished faculty member, with a particularly moving address by alumnus Adam Bradley (‘96), a former student and collaborator of Callahan’s and now a professor at UC Boulder, on his personal relationship with Callahan and his literary relationship with Ellison. Callahan’s current students, enrolled in his Ellison Letters class, participated in a roundtable discussion on Saturday afternoon with the symposium’s presenters. Afterwards, Callahan closed the symposium with a final address, which was met with a much deserved standing ovation by all in attendance.