The Ralph Ellison Festival, Poet Quraysh Ali Lansana And Black American Films

Feb 19, 2015

The Ralph Ellison Festival brings together an array of Oklahoma musicians, authors, artists and publishers for one evening, this Friday on Film Row. The line-up includes poets Candace Liger, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Lauren Zuniga and Short Order Poems; musicians Culture Cinematic and Gregory Jerome; and visual artists Skip Hill and RJ Woods, creator of New Myth Comics.

Ralph Ellison, Oklahoma City native, passed away in 1994. He was a novelist, essayist, NYU professor, jazz connoisseur, and great voice for the appreciation of black cultures, music and arts.
Credit Ralph Ellison Foundation

Local publishing companies Literati, Mongrel Empire and This Land Press put on a book fair at the Individual Artists of Oklahoma gallery, with a variety of poetry, comic books and anthologies on display, including Heathen and The Walmart Republic

Visiting poet and professor Quraysh Ali Lansana reflects on his relationship to the celebrated author and his legacy. Like Ellison, he spent his formative years in Oklahoma, and moved away as a young adult.

“Ralph Ellison wrote in one of his correspondences that he left Oklahoma, but it never left him," says Lansana. "I understand now what he meant in a deeper way. It took a while, but now Oklahoma just won’t leave me alone.”

Nowadays, he visits from Chicago about once a month, for events such as this. He teaches creative writing with Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA program and with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Beyond being accomplished authors from Oklahoma, he and Ellison have something more in common—being passionate about education.

“When I left Oklahoma for Chicago in 1988, I was headed to commit my life to writing, to political work and to social justice, and I have made a career of those things. Oklahoma is a difficult place, in a lot of ways," Lansana shared. "There are such intense race and class divisions, and savage inequalities regarding economy and access. I am committed to the folks who stayed. I want to give back and share what gifts and knowledge I have with anyone who’ll listen as often as possible.  I encourage them to access their voices, to speak truth to power, to not feel intimidated about possessing a different view than the common denomination. I have that same drive and commitment to nurture young people in general-- but specifically young writers, and in particular, young people of color.”

The poet is piecing together an anthology of writing by Oklahoma authors of color, together with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, director of the Red Earth MFA program and Mongrel Empire Press. They are accepting entries for the project now, but get ‘em in fast. They expect to publish in early 2016. The anthology includes contemporary works and archival gems, discovered in collections at the University of Oklahoma, the McFarlin Library, and ROMP (Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry). The book features “Deep Second”, a Ralph Ellison poem, along with writings from much lesser known Oklahoma authors, who may not have been seen in print since original publication in the 1920s, or even earlier.

Lansana, known to many friends and students as Q, kicks off the festival with a reading at 6:30 p.m. at Dunlap Codding, with opening remarks by festival organizer John Selvidge and Ralph Ellison Foundation director Michael Owens. Lansana will perform again later in the evening, in the Upstairs Jazz Lounge at the Paramount. 

Saturday, deadCENTER Film presents a day-long Black History Month Film Festival. The gathering begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Oklahoma History Center with all-ages activities, including kidsFEST, a photo exhibit and short presentations on the history of African-American cinema and Oklahoma’s historically all-black towns. In the afternoon, a juried competition of short films is hosted by the Bare Bones Film Festival of Muskogee, the Inclusion in Art coalition and the Coltrane Group/History in Progress. deadCENTER conducts an afternoon session of workshops for filmmakers. 

Credit deadCENTER

In the evening, the Cinemark Tinseltown theater in northeast Oklahoma City  screens several highly successful recent documentaries and feature films, including the 2013 western They Die by Dawn, the 2012 arthouse romantic comedy An Oversimplification of Her Beauty and the Memphis music documentary Take Me to the River. All festival events and screenings are cost-free and open to the public.

Other family-friendly activities in the metro this weekend include Who Am I This Time? And Other Conundrums of Love, a G-rated comedy adapted from a short story collection by Kurt Vonnegut, at Carpenter Square Theatre; a financial aid workshop for teens and parents at the University of Central Oklahoma; and a longstanding Oklahoma City tradition— the Friends of the Metropolitan Library Annual Booksale, all weekend long. Monday is the final free day of the season at the Oklahoma City Zoo!

There is so much to do, see and experience in central Oklahoma, but only 168 hours each week. We’ll help you make the most of it. Our calendar of community events features many choices for arts, entertainment and educational activities throughout the week. You may submit your own event for listing on the calendar, for a chance to be announced on air at KGOU.