Ralph Ellison

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Ralph Waldo Ellison (March 1, 1914[1] – April 16, 1994) was a novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ellison is 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).


Early life

Ralph Ellison, named after Ralph Waldo Emerson[2], was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Lewis Alfred Ellison and Ida Millsap. Research by Lawrence Jackson, one of Ellison's biographers, has established that he was born a year earlier than had been previously thought. He had one brother named Herbert Millsap Ellison, who was born in 1916. Lewis Alfred Ellison, a small-business owner and a construction foreman, died when Ralph was three years old from stomach ulcers he received from an ice delivering accident[3]. Many years later, Ellison would find out that his father hoped he would grow up to be a poet.

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 William L. Dawson. Ellison also had the good 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 reading The Waste Land as a major awakening moment for him.

After his third year, Ellison moved to New York City to study the visual arts. He studied sculpture and photography. 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 Ellison wrote 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. was also...

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