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The Novel as a Function of American Diplomacy; or, Ralph Ellison's Cultural Cold War

USC Humanities Associates Series, “American Cultures”

A lecture by Harilaos Stecopoulos, Department of English, University of Iowa.

In this talk, Stecopoulos draws upon unpublished letters, lectures, and syllabi to demonstrate how Ralph Ellison’s long-neglected work as a Cold War literary ambassador influenced both his theory and practice of the novel.  Focusing largely on Ellison’s 1954 tenure at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, Stecopoulos examines how the novelist found in his overseas experience an opportunity to redefine The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnGo Down, Moses, and other classic American novels as global inasmuch as they engaged ethically with the internationally resonant problem of the color line. That experience as a literary ambassador would in turn shape Ellison’s early drafts of the unfinished Three Days Before the Shooting, in which he interweaves a civil rights plot and the diplomatic theme to demonstrate that the contemporary American novel constitutes a valuable site for rethinking international relations.


Harilaos Stecopoulos is Associate Professor of English at the University of Iowa.  He has published Reconstructing the World: Southern Fictions and U.S. Imperialisms, 1898-1976, and, as co-editor, Race and the Subject of Masculinities.  His work has appeared in American Literary History, American Quarterly, and Prospects, as well as in Imagining Our Americas: Toward a Transnational Frame, Exceptional State: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the New Imperialism, and From Bourgeois to Boojie: Black Middle-Class Performances. He is currently writing a new book, tentatively entitled "Telling America's Story to the World: Literature, Propaganda, Internationalism."

Sponsored by Professor John Carlos Rowe in his USC Humanities Associates Series, “American Cultures”