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Works by
Ralph Ellison
(Writer)

[1913-1994]

Profile created December 20, 2006
Fiction
  • Invisible Man (1952)
    Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952.  A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.  The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.  The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.

  • Juneteenth: A Novel (1999)
    From Ralph Ellison--author of the classic novel of African-American experience, Invisible Man -- the long-awaited second novel. Here is the master of American vernacular--the rhythms of jazz and gospel and ordinary speech--at the height of his powers, telling a powerful, evocative tale of a prodigal of the twentieth century.

Non-fiction
  • Shadow and Act (1964)

  • The Writer's Experience (1964) with Karl Shapiro

  • The City in Crisis (1968) with Herbert Gans and Whitney M. Young

  • Going to the Territory (1986)
    The seventeen essays collected in this volume prove that Ralph Ellison was not only one of America's most dazzlingly innovative novelists but perhaps also our most perceptive and iconoclastic commentator on matters of literature, culture, and race. In Going to the Territory, Ellison provides us with dramatically fresh readings of William Faulkner and Richard Wright, along with new perspectives on the music of Duke Ellington and the art of Romare Bearden. He analyzes the subversive quality of black laughter, the mythic underpinnings of his masterpiece Invisible Man, and the extent to which America's national identity rests on the contributions of African Americans. Erudite, humane, and resounding with humor and common sense, the result is essential Ellison.

  • The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (1995)
    Compiled, edited, and newly revised by Ralph Ellison’s literary executor, John F. Callahan, this Modern Library Paperback Classic includes posthumously discovered reviews, criticism, and interviews, as well as the essay collections Shadow and Act (1964), hailed by Robert Penn Warren as “a body of cogent and subtle commentary on the questions that focus on race,” and Going to the Territory (1986), an exploration of literature and folklore, jazz and culture, and the nature and quality of lives that black Americans lead. “Ralph Ellison,” wrote Stanley Crouch, “reached across race, religion, class and sex to make us all Americans.”

  • Flying Home: And Other Stories (1997)
    Written between 1937 and 1954 and now available in paperback for the first time, these thirteen stories are a potent distillation of the genius of Ralph Ellison. Six of them remained unpublished during Ellison's lifetime and were discovered among the author's effects in a folder labeled "Early Stories." But they all bear the hallmarks--the thematic reach, musically layered voices, and sheer ebullience--that Ellison would bring to his classic Invisible Man.

    The tales in Flying Home range in setting from the Jim Crow South to a Harlem bingo parlor, from the hobo jungles of the Great Depression to Wales during the Second World War. By turns lyrical, scathing, touching, and transcendently wise, Flying Home and Other Stories is a historic volume, an extravagant last bequest from a giant of our literature.

See also:
  • Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson (2002, 2004) by Keith Clark
    From Frederick Douglass to the present, the preoccupation of black writers with manhood and masculinity has been constant. Black Manhood in
    James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson explores how in their own work three major African American writers contest classic portrayals of black men in earlier literature, from slave narratives through the great novels of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

    Keith Clark examines short stories, novels, and plays by Baldwin, Gaines, and Wilson, arguing that since the 1950s the three have interrupted and radically dismantled the constricting literary depictions of black men who equate selfhood with victimization, isolation, and patriarchy. Instead, they have reimagined black men whose identity is grounded in community, camaraderie, and intimacy.

    Delivering original and startling insights, this book will appeal to scholars and students of African American literature, gender studies, and narratology.

  • The Living Novel (1957), Granville Hicks, ed.

  • Who Speaks for the Negro (1965) by Robert Penn Warren
    The core of the work consists of transcriptions of interviews with Negroes of every social status and from every section of the nation. Warren is not a mere recorder but an active participant in the interview. The result is not an impersonal record of questions and answers, but impressions and images refracted in the contact with a sensitive mind and illuminating on that account. - Oscar Handlin, The New York Times Book Review

  • The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1899-1967 (1969), Langston Hughes, ed.
    Includes works by Alice Walker, Frank Yerby, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and others.

  • New Essays on Invisible Man (1988) by Robert G. O'Meally
    Published less than fifty years ago, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man shares with older classic works the odd quality of seeming to have been in place much longer. It is a novel that encompasses much of the American scene and character: though told by a single Afro-American voice and set in the contemporary South and then in modern New York City, its references are to the First World War, to Reconstruction, to the Civil War and slavery, to the founding of the American republic, to Columbus, and to the country's frontier past. In his introduction to this volume Robert O'Meally discusses Ellison's fictional strategies for reaching a wide audience while remaining true to his own artistic vision and voice. Then each of five critical essays explores a different aspect of this capacious novel. One looks at the novel's protagonist as an embattled artist-in-training: another focuses on the novel's political and philosophical backgrounds; a third discusses the style and meaning of the nameless narrator's speeches; a fourth examines the novel's modernism in light of its references to jazz and anthropology: and the final essay considers Invisible Man as a kind of war novel. Written in an accessible style, these essays represent the best of recent scholarship and provide students with a useful introduction to this major novel.

  • Prophets of Recognition: Ideology and the Individual in Novels by Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, and Eudora Welty (1999) by Hulia Eichelberger
    See also Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison

  • Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (2000) with Albert Murray
    This absorbing collection of letters spans a decade in the lifelong friendship of two remarkable writers who engaged the subjects of literature, race, and identity with deep clarity and passion.

    The correspondence begins in 1950 when Ellison is living in New York City, hard at work on his enduring masterpiece, Invisible Man, and Murray is a professor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Mirroring a jam session in which two jazz musicians "trade twelves"—each improvising twelve bars of music around the same musical idea-their lively dialog centers upon their respective writing, the jazz they both love so well, on travel, family, the work literary contemporaries (including Richard Wright, James Baldwin, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway) and the challenge of racial inclusiveness that they wish to pose to America through their craft. Infused with warmth, humor, and great erudition, Trading Twelves offers a glimpse into literary history in the making—and into a powerful and enduring friendship.

  • A Renaissance in Harlem: Lost Essays of the WPA, by Ralph Ellison, Dorothy West, and Other Voices of a Generation (2001) by Lionel C. Bascom

  • Black Voices (2001), Abraham Chapman, ed.
    Featuring poetry, fiction, autobiography and literary criticism, this is a comprehensive and vital collection featuring the work of the major black voices of a century. An unparalleled important classic anthology with timeless appeal.

    Includes works by Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Leroi Jones,  Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

  • Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings (2001) by Robert O'Meally
    "In those days it was either live with music or die with noise, and we chose rather desperately to live."

    Before Ralph Ellison became one of America's greatest writers, he was a musician and a student of jazz. The author of Invisible Man wrote widely and brilliantly on his favorite music for more than fifty years, immersing himself in the lives and works of America's musicians, some of whom were his close friends. Ellison is, in fact, perhaps the most important jazz analyst we have. In Living with Music, celebrated jazz authority Robert G. O'Meally has collected the very best of Ellison's writings on this subject; each selection vibrant, insightful, and bursting with Ellison's love of the music in this unique and original anthology.

    For readers who think they know Ellison's work, this book will be a revelation. For music fans, it is an essential addition to the jazz bookshelf. Selections include the famous Homage to Duke Ellington on His Birthday, The Golden Age, Time Past, On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz, letters to Albert Murray about Louis Armstrong, and O'Meally's 1976 interview with Ellison. In these pages, Ellison reflects on the greats, from Charlie Parker to Duke Ellington, and meditates on jazz classics in a style that will make even casual fans of the genre hear the music in a whole new way. In Living with Music, we see firsthand the resounding and profound influence that jazz and Ralph Ellison; two American originals, riffing, improvising, and conversing on a truly profound level, have had on our culture.

  • Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius (2002) by Lawrence Jackson
    Author, intellectual, and social critic, Ralph Ellison (1914—1994) was a pivotal figure in American literature and history and arguably the father of African American modernism. Universally acclaimed for his first novel, Invisible Man, a masterpiece of modern fiction, and, more recently, for Juneteenth, Ellison was recognized with a stunning succession of honors, including the 1953 National Book Award. Yet, despite rich literary accomplishment and important friendships, political activism, and historical impact, Ellison’s life has never been the subject of a biography. He has received surprisingly sparse treatment by biographers of other leading American literary figures, historians, and social critics. Here, for the first time, is a thoroughly researched biography that tells the coming-of-age story of one of the most gifted and influential writers of our time.

    Powerfully enhanced by rare photographs of Ellison, this long-deserved examination draws from archives, literary correspondence, and interviews with Ellison’s relatives, friends, and associates. Tracing his path from poverty in Dustbowl Oklahoma to his rise among the literary elite, Lawrence Jackson explores the author’s relationships with other stars, particularly Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and examines his never-before-documented involvement in the Socialist Left of the 1930s and ’40s, the black radical rights movement of the same period, and the League of American Writers. The result is a fascinating portrait of a fraternal cadre of important black writers and critics––and the singularly complex and intriguing man at its center.

    The critical success of Invisible Man would bring a flood of honors: the 1955 Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Medal of Freedom, bestowed by Richard Nixon in 1969, an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1974, and election to both the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This exceptional biography reveals to readers a man whose mark on an art–– and a people–– has far transcended the trophies bestowed on him.

  • Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (2004) by John F. Callahan
    This casebook features ten distinctive, provocative, and original essays in addition to a generous sampling of Ellison's comments on the novel. A number of the latter are from letters never before published; also published for the first time is Part II of Ellison's "Working Notes on Invisible Man," an undated exposition of his author's intentions likely written in 1946 or 1947. The ten essays are a selection of the most perceptive and comprehensive essays written on Invisible Man during the last thirty-five years, including an essay by Kenneth Burke, which began as a letter to Ellison about the novel even before its publication in 1952. Also among the essays is Larry Neal's "Ellison's Zoot Suit," in which he finds the novel an exemplary enactment in fiction of the "black aesthetic." The essays explore topics of narrative form, classical and vernacular points of reference, and the relationship between the themes of love and politics. Taken together with Ellison's "Working Notes" and later commentary on the novel, the volume accounts for the continuing appeal of Invisible Man more than fifty years after its publication. An editor's introduction and a full bibliography accompany the essays, selections from Ellison's writings, and informal statements on his novel. The volume offers a rich variety of interpretations of Invisible Man for students and scholars of Ellison.

  • Ralph Ellison: A Biography (2007 release) by Arnold Rampersad

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