Ellison, Ralph

Ellison, Ralph (Ralph Waldo Ellison), 1914–94, African-American author, b. Oklahoma City, studied Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee Univ.). Originally a trumpet player and aspiring composer, he moved (1936) to New York City, where he met Langston Hughes, who became his mentor, and became friends with Richard Wright, who radicalized his thinking. Ellison's earliest published writings were reviews and stories in the politically radical New Masses magazine. His literary reputation rests almost completely on one novel, Invisible Man (1952, National Book Award). A classic of American literature, it draws upon the author's experiences to detail the harrowing progress of a nameless young black man struggling to live in a hostile society. Ellison also published two collections of essays, Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986). His collected essays were published in 1995, and a volume of stories appeared in 1996. Ellison struggled with the writing of a second novel, sections of which appeared (1960–77) in magazines, leaving it uncompleted at his death; his literary executor assembled Juneteenth (1999) from four decades of text and notes.

See his jazz writings ed. by R. G. O'Meally (2001); selected letters ed. by J. F. Callahan and M. C. Conner (2019); biographies by L. Jackson (2002) and A. Rampersad (2007); studies by J. Hersey, ed. (1974), R. G. O'Meally (1980), A. Nadel (1988), M. Busby (1991), E. Schor (1993), J. G. Watts (1995), H. Bytkerm, ed., (2000), H. Bloom, ed. (2003), K. W. Warren (2003), S. C. Tracy, ed. (2004), J. S. Wright (2006), and A. Bradley (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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