Novelist, cultural critic, and poet Albert Murray has been awarded the Du Bois Medal by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The announcement was made April 23 by the institute’s director, Henry Louis Gates Jr., in recognition of Murray’s “contributions to the arts, culture, and the life of the mind.” The citation reads in part: “We present Albert Murray with the Du Bois Medal today to let him know that his life’s work is not only valued, but also recognized as vital and central to our intellectual and artistic tradition.” Recent winners of the medal include Aime Cesaire, George Lamming, Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, and Derek Walcott.
Murray is the author of three seminal works of cultural criticism (“The Omni-Americans: Black Experience and American Culture,” “The Hero and the Blues,” and “Stomping the Blues”); a trio of autobiographical novels (“Trainwhistle Guitar,” “The Spyglass Tree,” and “The Seven League Boots” — comprising an extended bildungsroman — “Conjugations and Reiterations”); a collection of poetry; and “The Blue Devils of Nada,” a gathering of critical observations. He also wrote Count Basie’s memoir, “Good Morning Blues,” and was co-editor of “Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.”
Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, Toni Morrison has described Murray as “one of the best-kept secrets in contemporary American literature.” Morrison added, “He is our premier writer about jazz and an incisive literary critic, and a social commentator of wide vision. Murray’s perceptions are firmly based in the blues idiom and it is black music no less than literary criticism and historical analysis that gives his work its authenticity, its emotional vigor, and its tenacious hold on the intellect.” The New Yorker, meanwhile, has celebrated him for being “possessed of the poet’s language, the novelist’s sensibility, the essayist’s clarity, the jazzman’s imagination, and the gospel singer’s depth of feeling.”
The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute is the nation’s oldest research center dedicated to the study of the history, culture, and social institutions of Africans and African Americans. From its inception in 1975, the institute has supported the development of more than 250 scholars. The institute annually awards up to 20 fellowships to scholars at various stages in their careers in the fields of African and African-American studies, broadly defined to cover the expanse of the African diaspora.