By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The 2017 Foundation celebration “A Night with Ralph Ellison” will be held on Saturday, February 25 from 6 – 9 p.m. at the Oklahoma History Center’s Devon Great Hall in Oklahoma City. February is recognized nationally as Black History Month.
The evening will feature a three-course wine dinner and a program of music, dance, literary readings, awards, and a short film.
Born in Oklahoma City, Ralph Waldo Ellison was a 20th Century African American novelist, literary critic, and scholar. He is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953.
During the program the Foundation’s Shadow and Act Awards will be presented to two leaders in the Oklahoma community whose work reflects the values of Ralph Ellison’s legacy. The 2017 awards honorees will be announced the week before the event.
The gala will highlight the Foundation’s development of projects and outreach efforts designed to honor Ellison and enhance Oklahoma City’s diversity in the areas of education, community development, artistic programming, and the pursuit of positive social change.
“It will be an evening of movement,” said Michael Owens, the Foundation’s executive director and founder. “Ellison cultivated himself as a Renaissance man, so we wanted to put forward a program that harmonizes the many different aspects of Ellison’s life and work together—as a writer, musician, sculptor, cultural critic, and as a teacher. We want to honor Ellison in all of his complexity.”
Recipients of last year’s awards were Russell M. Perry of Perry Publishing and Broadcasting and Jim Tolbert of Full Circle Bookstore in recognition of their civic and professional leadership in Oklahoma City.
“From modest beginnings just a few years ago, we’re proud to have grown into a fully-realized contributor to Oklahoma City’s cultural vitality,” said Senator David Holt, president of the Foundation’s executive board, who will present the awards.
“Our mission to promote Ellison’s legacy and to do good works in his name is being fulfilled in more ways than ever,” Holt added. “Our work is largely made possible by the proceeds of the annual Gala celebration, so we’re deeply grateful for the support of all who attend.”
Gala general admission tickets are $75. VIP tickets are $85, which include access to a special reception at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of the History Center featuring free wine and hors d’oeuvres, a jazz duo, and a meet-and-greet with this year’s Shadow and Act Award winners and members of the Executive Board.
The Foundation’s work includes projects such as conducting a reading clinic for area children, launching a new curriculum for teaching Ellison’s work in high schools, and presenting a series of creative writing workshops for adults, as well as fostering public conversations on race relations in America.
On Thursday, February 16, the Foundation’s “In the Light Bulb Room” series of community forums continues with “Senate Bill 1 and the Real Black Oklahoma History” at the Paramount Room, 701 W. Sheridan Avenue, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Award-winning poet and educator Quraysh Ali Lansana will lead a panel discussion exploring Oklahoma’s first Jim Crow law, passed in 1907. A moderated group discussion session will follow. This free series is sponsored by Oklahoma Humanities.
“Our Light Room takes its central motif from Ellison’s masterwork Invisible Man,” said John Selvidge, the Foundation’s communications director. “Ellison’s narrator retreats underground basically to live in a bunker as he tries to understand his life’s story, rigging the room with 1,369 light bulbs in his thirst for clarity.
“It becomes a zone of expression and experimentation for him but also one of healing and understanding, and that’s what we want this series to be about as we conduct edgy but non-politically partisan conversations on a high, Ellisonian level.”
Owens added, “That’s what moves the conversation forward. It’s where change can take place, when you can have honest dialogue that is healthy and respectful.”
For tickets, sponsorships, and more information visit ralphellisonfoundation.org.