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Release: Oct. 1, 1999

Albert Murray, prominent African-American author and critic, speaks Oct. 12

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Critic, biographer, essayist and novelist Albert Murray, an influential voice in African-American art and criticism since World War II, will speak on "The Blues and American Mythic Prefiguration," at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12 in the Triangle Club Ballroom located of the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus. Sponsored by the UI Lecture Committee, African-American World Studies and the UI Writers' Workshop, the event is free and open to the public.

Composer and bandleader Duke Ellington once commented, "Albert Murray is a man whose learning did not interfere with his understanding. He doesn't have to look it up. He already knows. If you want to know, look him up. He is the unsquarest person I know."

In books beginning with "The Omni Americans" and continuing with volumes including "The Hero and the Blues," "Stomping the Blues," "South to a Very Old Place" and "The Blue Devils of Nada," Murray has argued for a vision of American culture that transcends race and political ideology: "For all their traditional antagonisms and obvious differences, the so-called black and so-called white people of the United States resemble nobody else in the world so much as they resemble each other."

This point of view flew in the face of both the assumptions of the white literary tradition and the most outspoken elements of black protest. As writer Gene Seymour encapsulated it, "The United States is in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people. There are white Americans so to speak and black Americans. But any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another… 'The Omni-Americans' challenged readers to do the hard, honest, necessary work of accepting this complexity."

Among Murray's intellectual offspring are Stanley Crouch, Cornel West and Stephen Carter, who have helped shift national debate away from the polarization of black and white. Crouch described him in "The All-American Skin Game" as "my mentor and far more my father than the fellow whose blood runs in my veins."

A key to Murray's understanding of the American aesthetic stance is the blues, a form of cultural expression that combines both European and African influences and is the common inheritance of all Americans -- a archetypal bridge that forever links Louis Armstrong and Ernest Hemingway. Murray wrote, "Beneath the idiomatic surface of your old down-home stomping ground, with all of the ever-so-evocative local color you work so hard to get just right, is the common ground of mankind in general."