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Ralph Ellison Part 15 of 15 Black Authors

Ralph Waldo Ellison March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994

As a kid, the invisible man that we know has nothing to do with the novel that I would come to know and love. Invisible Man, the book tells the story of the state of black people in America. I would like to say that this is a period piece that marks a specific time in America, but the story still resonates today.

Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and spent most of his life there and in Gary, Indiana. Ellison’s father died when he was only two years old, but his mother kept his father’s memory of dreams of Ellison becoming a poet alive.

Ellison was enamored with Tuskegee Institute and wanted to attend but kept being rejected for admission. Finally, in 1933 the institution needed a trumpet player for their orchestra, and Ellison was admitted. Ellison’s passion for literature and writing grew, and he understood the artistry of the work better. When Ellison moved to New York to study sculpture in 1936, he moved right into the Harlem Renaissance. He met Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Romare Bearden, and dozens of other black artists paving the way through art and literature.

Ellison was married twice and to his second wife when he published Invisible Man, for which he won the National Book Award. Ellison was said to have been working on a second novel but lost most of it in a fire in his home in Massachusetts. Juneteenth was published posthumously in 1999. Elison was a teacher at both Yale and Rutgers University as well as Bard College. Though Ellison was never happy with the finished manuscript for Invisible Man, the book has been deemed one of the most important and most necessary works of the Twentieth Century. Ralph Ellison lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on April 16, 1994, and is buried in Manhattan.

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