Invisible Man: Biography: Ralph Ellison


Biography

Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, OK, in 1914. Because of his interest in jazz music, Ellison studied music theory at the Frederick Douglass School in Oklahoma City and eventually attained a scholarship to Tuskegee Institute to continue his studies in 1933. There, in addition to studying music, he developed a growing interest in writers such as T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. Due to financial hardship, he left Tuskegee during his junior year and moved to New York City. He had originally planned to study sculpting, but he connected with great writers such as Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, and long-time mentor Richard Wright who inspired him to pursue a career in writing.
Ellison began his writing career by writing stories and critical reviews for publication in magazines like New Challenge (a Marxist literary magazine) and newspapers like New York Post. He also served as an editor for the Negro Quarterly for a brief time. Eventually, he would go on to publish his seminal work, Invisible Man, in 1952. Marked by a notable jazz influence and its irreverent social critique, Invisible Man was lauded as one of the greatest novels of its time. The novel was awarded the 1953 National Book Award and the Russwurm Award.
Additionally, Ellison held teaching appointments and visiting professorships at Bard College, University of Chicago, Rutgers University, and New York University. He was also appointed to the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1964 among numerous other commendations.
His other works include two collections of essays - Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory. In both books, Ellison espouses his views on American life, race relations and the writer's craft. These works also offer insight into Ellison's motivations with regard to the writing of Invisible Man. Also, Juneteenth, an unfinished novel, was published posthumously in 1999 edited by John Callahan.
Ralph Ellison died in 1994.

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