Ralph Ellison

A Biography

Publisher: Vintage
Ralph Ellison is justly celebrated for his epochal novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953 and has become a classic of American literature. But Ellison’s strange inability to finish a second novel, despite his dogged efforts and soaring prestige, made him a supremely enigmatic figure. Arnold Rampersad skillfully tells the story of a writer whose thunderous novel and astute, courageous essays on race, literature, and culture assure him of a permanent place in our literary heritage.

Starting with Ellison’s hardscrabble childhood in Oklahoma and his ordeal as a student in Alabama, Rampersad documents his improbable, painstaking rise in New York to a commanding place on the literary scene. With scorching honesty but also fair and compassionate, Rampersad lays bare his subject’s troubled psychology and its impact on his art and on the people about him.This book is both the definitive biography of Ellison and a stellar model of literary biography.

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Chapter One
In the Territory: 1913–1931

There is no ancestor so powerful as one’s earlier selves.
—Lewis Mumford (1929)

Decades after the blazing hot afternoon in June 1933 when Ralph Ellison, in his first and last outing as a hobo, climbed fearfully and yet...
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PRAISE FOR

“Startling, illuminating. . . . [Rampersad] treats Ellison as a man, not as a deity.”
The New Yorker
 

“Astute . . . revelatory. . . . Consistently intriguing.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Illuminating and richly reported. . . . Rampersad is uniquely qualified to examine the Ellison case.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Rampersad is as meticulous as he is graceful.”
Newsday