A portrait of critically and internationally acclaimed Oklahoma author Ralph Ellison was unveiled in a special ceremony at the state Capitol on Thursday. Ralph Ellison was author of the 1953 National Book Award-winning novel “Invisible Man,” as well as other acclaimed works, including “Shadow and Act,” “Going to the Territory,” “Juneteenth” and “Three Days Before the Shooting.”
The fundraising effort for the artwork was led by State Sen. David Holt, Oklahoma City University President, Robert Henry, and Kevin Perry of Perry Publishing and Broadcasting.
Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said the importance of the portrait was not simply to honor a great Oklahoman, but also to inspire future generations.
“Ralph Ellison is inspirational in multiple ways—he’s an incredible writer. He’s one of the greatest literary figures in American history. That alone is worth honoring him and exposing him to young people and others who visit the Capitol,” Holt said. “But the other thing is the social changes he stood for. The things he was writing so well about—the racial issues of the ‘50s and ‘60s—that’s an incredible legacy and he was very influential in changing society.”
The portrait dedication is part of a year-long celebration of the centennial of Ellison’s birth in Oklahoma City. Before his death in 1994, he received numerous other honors for his writing and for social change his words inspired, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts. He also taught at several prestigious colleges and universities, including New York University where he was named the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities.
The portrait, by Oklahoma artist Tracey Harris, will be on permanent display on the fourth floor of the Capitol, and is part of the Capitol Art Collection, telling Oklahoma’s story through events, land and people featured in permanent works of art at the Capitol.