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.
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.”
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.):