Marc C. Conner, associate provost and professor of English at Washington and Lee University, will give his inaugural lecture marking his appointment as the Jo M. and James M. Ballengee 250th Anniversary Professor, on Monday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. in Leyburn Library’s Northen Auditorium.
The title of his lecture, which is free and open to the public, is “The Identities of Ralph Ellison.”
“In this lecture, I will investigate the unpublished and posthumously published writings of Ralph Ellison, the great African-American novelist and essayist of the mid-20th century,” said Conner. “For several years my research has focused on Ellison’s unpublished memoir, ‘Leaving the Territory,’ which chronicles his departure from the hometown of his youth and his setting forth on his journey of self-discovery by train as a young man.
“In addition, I have been compiling and editing together Ellison’s Selected Letters, also unpublished, which will form a chronicle and autobiographical account of Ellison’s major ideas, struggles and triumphs as a writer and intellectual in America from the 1930s until his death in 1994. And finally, I have been writing about Ellison’s long-unfinished, posthumously-published epic that he worked on for over 40 years, which finally appeared in 2010 as ‘Three Days Before the Shooting.’
Conner also said that he would “briefly present my thoughts on each of these self-writings of Ellison’s and talk about what Ellison can teach us of the identity of the modern American novelist and the identity of America itself.”
Conner joined the W&L faculty in 1996. He received bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy at the University of Washington and his master's degree and Ph.D. in English literature at Princeton University.
His primary area of scholarship and teaching is literary modernism, both narrative and poetry, including Irish modernism, the modern American novel and African-American literature. He has written extensively about the work of Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson and James Joyce. He created the Spring Term program in Ireland and has accompanied W&L students to Ireland on six occasions to experience the literature and culture there.
In addition, he teaches Shakespeare, the Bible as literature and related courses in literature and religion and literature and philosophy. He recently completed "How to Read and Understand Shakespeare," a collection of 24 audio and video lectures, as part of The Great Courses series.
As director of Spring Term, he was responsible for curriculum planning and assessment of the University's innovative four-week term, which resulted in the creation of almost 300 new courses.
The Jo M. and James M. Ballengee 250th Anniversary Professorship was created in 1999 in honor of Washington and Lee's 250th celebration. Ballengee was a member of the Law Class of 1948 and was rector of W&L’s Board of Trustees.