Sharjah International Book Fair November 4th-14th - Save the Date!

Rediscover: The Omni-Americans

African American novelist, essayist, biographer and jazz critic Albert Murray (1916-2013) was born in Mobile, Ala., graduated from and later taught at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, hoping to "live long enough for Thomas Mann to finish the last volume of Joseph and His Brothers." After the war, he earned a masters in English from New York University, where he befriended Ralph Ellison and Duke Ellington. Murray retired from the Air Force as a major in 1962 and settled in Harlem. He published his first book, The Omni-Americans, in 1970 and held professorships across the country, including at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Colgate University, Emory University, Drew University and Barnard College. Murray's music writing influenced jazz legend Wynton Marsalis. They founded Jazz at Lincoln Center together in 1987.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy the "most important book on black-white relationships." In it, Murray said "the United States is in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people. Any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another." He argued that black culture and art, blues and jazz in particular, were at the forefront of the American mainstream and were integral parts of the best American art. On February 4, Library of America published a 50th-anniversary edition of The Omni-Americans with a new foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ($15.95, 9781598536522). --Tobias Mutter