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Ralph Ellison

Many say that Ralph Waldo Ellison (1914-1994) kick-started the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States with his famous novel, Invisible Man. Although he resisted activism in his personal life, Ellison empowered the nation through the wonderful words that finally described reality for young black men.

Born in Oklahoma from humble beginnings, Ellison faced a difficult life growing up in the south. He studied music and art at an early age, and moved to New York City to find work when he was 22. Ellison catapulted onto the literary scene after meeting Richard Wright, author of "Native Son." Wright, whose success arose from writing about black life, befriended the young writer and encouraged him to voice his experience with racial prejudices. Ellison wrote with the Federal Writing Project until "Invisible Man" was published in 1952.




Following the immediate success of his first novel, Ellison won the National Book Award in 1953 and began lecturing and writing on race issues. He eventually became a professor of humanities at New York University and continued to write short stories and essays. Even after his death in 1994, Ralph Ellison remains a hero and an inspiration for his brave and profound writing.

Sites to See

  • American Masters: Ralph Ellison
    This PBS site features a biographical essay and interactive timeline of the author's life. The site was created for the PBS special on Ellison's life, so you can also find documentary footage and a discussion with the filmmaker about his experiencing chronicling Ellison's "profoundly significant" work.

  • Decoding Ralph Ellison
    This essay on the writer and his novel understands the complexity Ellison created for his characters and his style. Competitive with other 1960s works, such as J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and Richard Wright's "Native Son," "Invisible Man" deserves top honors according to this review.




   --- Nicole E. Magistro

 
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