Earlier this year staffers at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University found audio tapes from a 1953 conference on the contemporary novel at Harvard Summer School. One of the participants in the conference was Ralph Ellison who had recently won the National Book Award for his novel Invisible Man. When Ellison won the award that year, other finalists included Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
One member of the audience at the conference was Henry Kissinger, who after hearing Ellison asked him to write an essay for the journal Confluence: An International Forum, for which Kissinger was the editor. One audience member at the conference asked Ellison if he thought the novel should be used as a means of protest. “I don’t think that’s a writer’s business at all,” Ellison responded. “His business, of course, is to write.” A decade later, Ellison was criticized by some Black leaders for not taking an active role in the civil rights movement.
The newly discovered audio tapes at Harvard University include 12 hours of conference proceedings over a two-day period. The tapes are being digitized and will be made available online later this fall on the Woodberry Poetry Room’s website.