When Ralph Ellison’s impassioned, compelling novel Invisible Man was published in 1952, it won the National Book Award for fiction. Although Ellison himself was modest in his estimate of the novel’s durability, the book has shown every indication that it is on its way to becoming an American classic. In a poll of 200 writers, editors, and critics conducted by the New York Herald Tribune’s Book Week magazine in 1965, Invisible Man was voted the most distinguished novel published in the twenty years since 1945. In Invisible Man Ellison constructed, from the fabric of his own background as a Negro, a nightmarish story of the brutal experience endured by a young American black man and their effect on his once naively idealistic psyche. Despite its theme, the book transcends the bounds of a traditional Negro novel. “This is not another journey to the end of the night,” Wright Morris once wrote of Invisible Man. “With this book the author maps a course from the underground world into the light. The Invisible Man belongs on the shelf with the classical efforts man has made to chart the river Lethe from its mouth to its source.” Ellison has also published Shadow and Act (1964)
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on March 1, 1914 to Lewis Alfred and Ida (Millsap) Ellison. His father, a construction worker and tradesman, died when Ellison was three, and his mother supported herself and her son by working as a domestic. From an early age Ellison was interested in music and books, and his mother brought home for him from the households where she labored discarded phonograph records and magazines. Growing up in Oklahoma City, Ellison knew Hot Lips page, the jazz musician, and he was a friend . . . of Jimmy Rushing, the blues singer. In high school, he played trumpet in the band.
Ellison began reading Hemingway in adolescence, and later he became interested in the poetry of T.S. Eliot. “At first I was puzzled when I began to read Ernest Hemingway . . . as to just why his stories could move me but I couldn’t reduce them to a logical system. . . .” Ellison told Mike McGrady of Newsday (October 28, 1967). “Then I began to look at my own life through the lives of fictional characters. When I read Stendhal, I would search within the Negro communities in which I grew up. I began, in other words, quite early to connect the worlds projected in literature and poetry and drama and novels with the life in which I found myself.”
(Picture: Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison
Sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, 2003
Riverside Park @ 150th Street, Manhattan
This sculpture honors author Ralph Ellison, who lived opposite this park. It consists of a bronze monolith through which is cut the silhouette of a striding man –a literal allusion to Ellison's epic novel, Invisible Man. A quotation from the novel and biographical details relating to Ellison are inscribed in low-lying pink granite wall framing an oval landscape designed by Ken Smith.)