Invisibility and Identity: The Search for Self in African American Fiction

Fall 2006

African American identity has been a point of concern for over two hundred years. When Africans were first brought to this country as captives, they no longer were called Africans. Their new identity as slaves deprived them of their history, culture, and a positive sense of self. The subsequent search for identity remains one of the primary legacies of slavery. The experience of African American writers has been different from other American writers because of their unique relationship and encounters with the majority society. So while the search for self, or coming to terms with one’s personal identity in the context of the larger society, is important for everyone, it has especially been important for African Americans in light of the historical and social restrictions and challenges they have faced. The five contemporary novels in this new series ask us to explore and reflect on the paradox of understanding the significance of historical events on black writers and characters while also remembering that real self-identity comes from the character of the individual, not from color, culture, or ethnicity. These five major novels also present African American history from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. If you want to take advantage of this opportunity, please join us for this “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” reading and discussion series. Some of our country’s finest and most internationally acclaimed contemporary writers will challenge us to explore the relationships among the varied peoples of our nation’s history and our own experience.

Oklahoma City University invites participants to make this theme come “alive” in the readings of this five-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the book in the context of the theme. Small group discussion will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, everyone will come together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Harbour Winn at 208-5472, emailing him at or dropping by OCU’s Walker Center 171 (southwest corner of the building just south of NW 26th and Florida). Information can also be found on the web site of the Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature:

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays, beginning September 12 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through November 7. Books, theme materials, and services for this series are provided by “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” a cooperative project of the Oklahoma Library Association and the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Funding for this series is provided by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding for this series was made possible by a grant from the Inasmuch Foundation and by individual donations.


9/12/2006 Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

Oklahoma native Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, Invisible Man, will launch our series theme. Winner of the National Book Award in 1952 and voted in a 1965 poll of authors as “the most distinguished single work published in the last twenty years,” the book’s young protagonist tries on numerous identities at the urging of others until he finds himself invisible

9/26/2006 Walter Moseley’s Little Scarlet

Set in the aftermath of the 1965 riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Moseley’s mystery novel offers us one of his popular detective series works featuring Easy Rawlins. Moseley combines mystery and suspense with the search for self amidst the stereotypes of African Americans held by some police officers and members of the majority society

10/10/2006 Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner Morrison presents a powerful novel that raises many questions about the sometimes impossible standards of beauty set by a culture and the often tragic results when someone young and naïve tries to live up to them

10/24/2006 Alice Walker’s Meridian

Pulitzer Prize winner Walker presents in Meridian the portrait of a young woman inspired and empowered by the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960’s. The work underscores the complexities of motherhood and how racism affects it in American society. To what extent can an individual create the self in spite of the negative image society imposes on one?

11/7/2006 Ernest Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest Gaines depicts the recollections of an African American woman who has experienced a century, from the Civil War to the Civil Right’s movement. Miss Jane battles for freedom and the power of self determination. Will her shoulders be strong enough to act on her convictions and courageously stand against the things that hold her back regardless of where she lives?