Ralph Ellison

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Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1913[1] – April 16, 1994) was a scholar and writer. He was born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, named by his father after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison was 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). Research by Lawrence Jackson, Ellison's biographer, has established that he was born a year earlier than had been previously thought. Contents

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* 1 Early Life
* 2 College
* 3 New York
* 4 Writings
* 5 Notes
* 6 External links

[edit] Early Life

Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, probably in 1913. Ellison's father, a small-business owner and a construction foreman, died when he was three. Many years later, Ellison would find out that his father hoped he would grow up to be a poet, and named him after the great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison's mother raised him and his brother Herbert, while working as a domestic and nursemaid.

Early in life he became enamored with music, studying trumpet and piano. Ellison lived at a time when several great jazz musicians were in Oklahoma City, so he became immersed in that genre of music as well as the classical composition which he studied in school. Jimmy Rushing would be a particular strong influence; years later he would include the essay "Remembering Jimmy" in his book of criticism Shadow And Act. Music was a constant theme both in his personal life and in his writing.

[edit] College

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 Charles L. Dawson (the Tuskegee choir was invited to play at many prestigious locations throughout the world, including Radio City). Ellison also had the 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 The Waste Land as a major awakening moment for him.

[edit] New York

After his third year, Ellison moved to New York City to earn money for his final year. He decided to study sculpture, and 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 writing 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 WWII Ellison joined the Merchant Marine, and in 1946 he married his second wife, Fanny McConnell. She supported her husband financially while he wrote Invisible Man, and typed Ellison's longhand text. She also assisted her husband in editing the typescript as it progressed.

[edit] Writings

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 1940's. In contrast to his contemporaries such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Ellison created characters who 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 groundbreaking novel,...
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