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Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison

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Ralph Ellison

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

  2. Background • Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – frontier state with no history of slavery, modern view • Named after Ralph Waldo Emerson • Father wanted him to be a poet • Attended the Tuskegee Institute to study music on scholarship • Left school after three years and moved to New York City to study the visual arts • Parallels to Invisible Man

  3. Writing Career • Began in NYC when Ellison met Richard Wright • Wright was a black author who wrote protest literature against racism • He encouraged Ellison to begin writing fiction • Wrote book reviews and short stories about “the black experience” while working on Invisible Man, which he published in 1952 • A perfectionist in writing, he spent his life attempting to write “a major novel” • Wrote over 2000 pages of manuscripts for his second novel, but never finished. Parts of this writing were published in the novel Juneteenth after his death.

  4. Ellison’s Ideas and Influences • Growing up in Oklahoma in the 1910s gave Ellison very modern ideas on race interactions compared to those in the Northern and Southern states • “The task of the writer is to tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.” • Wanted to show the influences of African-American culture in American life through highly developed, educated black characters – different from the image of the time period

  5. Beyond Race • Ellison wrote about American culture in the 1930’s – the search for individual identity and place in society – not about racism. Race relations just happened to be the leading issue in 1930’s America. • “There are two types of people: those who wear their everyday clothes on Sunday, and those who wear their Sunday clothes every day. I want to wear Sunday clothes every day.” • Ellison’s modern views allowed him to explore his own black identity and his values through his characters • “Ralph Ellison taught me what it is to be an American.”