Search - List of Books by Ralph Ellison
"Eclecticism is the word. Like a jazz musician who creates his own style out of the styles around him, I play by ear." -- Ralph Ellison
Ralph Waldo Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994) was a novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ellison is best known for his novel Invisible Man (ISBN 0-679-60139-2), which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986).
"America is woven of many strands. I would recognise them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many. This is not prophecy, but description.""By and large, the critics and readers gave me an affirmed sense of my identity as a writer. You might know this within yourself, but to have it affirmed by others is of utmost importance. Writing is, after all, a form of communication.""Education is all a matter of building bridges.""Good fiction is made of that which is real, and reality is difficult to come by.""Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked.""Hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.""I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.""I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.""I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time being ashamed.""If the word has the potency to revive and make us free, it has also the power to blind, imprison, and destroy.""Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.""Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.""The act of writing requires a constant plunging back into the shadow of the past where time hovers ghostlike.""The end is in the beginning and lies far ahead.""The understanding of art depends finally upon one's willingness to extend one's humanity and one's knowledge of human life.""There are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.""There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.""When I discover who I am, I'll be free."
Ralph Ellison, named after the preacher-philosopher Emerson, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Lewis Alfred Ellison and Ida Millsap. Research by Lawrence Jackson, one of Ellison's biographers, has established that he was born a year earlier than had been previously thought. He had one brother named Herbert Millsap Ellison, who was born in 1916. Lewis Alfred Ellison, a small-business owner and a construction foreman, died when Ralph was three years old. Many years later, Ellison would find out that his father hoped he would grow up to be a poet.
In 1933, Ellison entered the Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship to study music. Tuskegee's music department was perhaps the most renowned department at the school, headed by the conductor William L. Dawson. Ellison also had the good fortune to come under the close tutelage of the piano instructor Hazel Harrison. While he studied music primarily in his classes, he spent increasing amounts of time in the library, reading up on modernist classics. He specifically cited reading The Waste Land as a major awakening moment for him.
After his third year, Ellison moved to New York City to study the visual arts. He studied sculpture and photography. He made acquaintance with the artist Romare Bearden. Perhaps Ellison's most important contact would be with the author Richard Wright, with whom he would have a long and complicated relationship. After Ellison wrote a book review for Wright, Wright encouraged Ellison to pursue a career in writing, specifically fiction. The first published story written by Ellison was a short story entitled "Hymie's Bull," a story inspired by Ellison's hoboing on a train with his uncle to get to Tuskegee. From 1937 to 1944 Ellison had over twenty book reviews as well as short stories and articles published in magazines such as New Challenge and New Masses.
During World War II, Ellison joined the Merchant Marine, and in 1946 he married his second wife, Fanny McConnell. She worked as a photographer to help sustain Ellison. From 1947 to 1951 he earned some money writing book reviews, but spent most of his time working on Invisible Man. Fanny also helped type Ellison's longhand text and assisted her husband in editing the typescript as it progressed.
Published in 1952, Invisible Man explores the theme of man’s search for his identity and place in society, as seen from the perspective of an unnamed black man in the New York City of the 1930s. In contrast to his contemporaries such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Ellison created characters that are dispassionate, educated, articulate and self-aware. Through the protagonist, Ellison explores the contrasts between the Northern and Southern varieties of racism and their alienating effect. The narrator is "invisible" in a figurative sense, in that "people refuse to see" him, and also experiences a kind of dissociation. The novel, with its treatment of taboo issues such as incest, won the National Book Award in 1953.
In 1955, Ellison went abroad to Europe to travel and lecture before settling for a time in Rome, Italy, where he wrote an essay that appeared in a Bantam anthology called A New Southern Harvest in 1957. Robert Penn Warren was in Rome during the same period and the two writers became close friends. In 1958, Ellison returned to the United States to take a position teaching American and Russian literature at Bard College and to begin a second novel, Juneteenth. During the 1950s he corresponded with his lifelong friend, the writer Albert Murray. In their letters they commented on the development of their careers, the civil rights movement and other common interests including jazz. Much of this material was published in the collection Trading Twelves (2000).
In 1964, Ellison published Shadow and Act, a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers University and Yale University, while continuing to work on his novel. The following year, a survey of 200 prominent literary figures was released that proclaimed Invisible Man the most important novel since World War II.
In 1967, Ellison experienced a major house fire at his home in Plainfield, Massachusetts, in which he claimed more than 300 pages of his second novel manuscript were lost. This assertion is challenged in the 2007 biography of Ellison by Arnold Rampersad. A perfectionist regarding the art of the novel, Ellison had said in accepting his National Book Award for Invisible Man, that he felt he had made "an attempt at a major novel", and despite the award, he was unsatisfied with the book. Ellison ultimately wrote over 2000 pages of this second novel. He never finished it.
Writing essays about both the black experience and his love for jazz music, Ellison continued to receive major awards for his work. In 1969 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the following year, he was made a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France and became a permanent member of the faculty at New York University as the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities, serving from 1970 to 1980.
In 1975, Ellison was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and his hometown of Oklahoma City honored him with the dedication of the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library. Continuing to teach, Ellison published mostly essays, and in 1984, he received the New York City College's Langston Hughes Medal. In 1985, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1986, his Going to the Territory was published. This is a collection of seventeen essays that included insight into southern novelist William Faulkner and Ellison's friend Richard Wright, as well as the music of Duke Ellington and the contributions of African Americans to America’s national identity.
In 1992, at age 79, Ellison was awarded a special achievement award from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Ellison was also an accomplished sculptor, musician, photographer and college professor. He taught at Bard College, Rutgers University, the University of Chicago, and New York University. Ellison was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
Ralph Ellison died on April 16, 1994 of pancreatic cancer, and was buried at Trinity Church Cemetery in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. He was survived by his wife Fanny Ellison, who died on November 19, 2005.
After his death, more manuscripts were discovered in his home, resulting in the publication of Flying Home: And Other Stories in 1996. In 1999, five years after his death, Ellison's second novel, Juneteenth (ISBN 0-394-46457-5), was published under the editorship of John F. Callahan, a professor at Lewis & Clark College and Ellison's literary executor. It was a 368-page condensation of over 2000 pages written by Ellison over a period of forty years. All the manuscripts of this incomplete novel were published collectively on January 26, 2010 by Modern Library, under the title, Three Days Before the Shooting.
Total Books: 81
- Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
- Going to the Territory by Ralph Ellison