Back Albert Murray saluted as writer, mentor, and friend at New York City’s 92nd Street Y
Wynton Marsalis at the 92nd Street Y’s A Celebration of Albert Murray on November 28, 2016. (© 2016 Nancy Crampton)

A distinguished lineup took to the stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Monday night for A Celebration of Albert Murray, an evening–long tribute to the wide-ranging critic, novelist, and all-around man of letters, who died in 2013. The event commemorated both Murray’s centennial and the publication of Library of America’s new Albert Murray: Collected Essays & Memoirs.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Paul Devlin, co-editors of the Library of America volume, were among those reading from Murray’s work and giving testimonials to his influence, along with musician Wynton Marsalis and writers Renata Adler and Ayana Mathis.

A member of Library of America’s Board of Directors since 1997 and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, Gates expressed a deep personal debt to Murray’s example as a writer and scholar. “His contrariness, his willingness to stand up to intellectual–ideological bullies from the left or from the right, influenced me—I think fundamentally shaped me.”

Gates also recognized his co-editor on Library of America’s Murray collection: “Every writer must dream of having an acolyte, a disciple, a critic, a devotee, as devoted and intelligent as Paul Devlin.”

L to R: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Renata Adler, Paul Devlin, and Ayana Mathis at the 92nd Street Y on November 28, 2016. (© 2016 Nancy Crampton)

Murray’s mentoring—patient and generous, but also rigorous—was a theme throughout the evening. Marsalis reminisced warmly about his many visits to Murray’s book-filled Harlem apartment and drew a laugh from the audience when, after reading from The Hero and the Blues, he confided: “Now let me assure you of one thing. Albert Murray would talk the same way I’m reading.”

Offering a younger generation’s perspective, Mathis (who never met Murray) described her excitement after recently discovering his 1975 novel Train Whistle Guitar in a used bookstore in upstate New York. Before she’d even finished the book, Mathis said, “I couldn’t believe I didn’t know this person.”

Watch the 92nd Street Y’s complete video (1 hr., 23 min.):

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