The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison

Gene Seymour at Bookforum:

Of all these correspondents, however, Albert Murray was the one who best drew out of Ellison both the literary lion and the streetwise sophisticate at his most unbuttoned and inventive. Murray was a couple years behind Ellison at Tuskegee and was teaching literature there when they began corresponding in 1950. While on the home stretch of Invisible Man, Ellison, feeling super-relaxed, concedes to Murray, as he could to no one else, that the book has become “just a big fat ole Negro lie, meant to be told during cotton picking time over a water bucket full of corn, with a dipper passing back and forth at a good fast clip so that no one, not even the narrator himself, will realize how utterly preposterous the lie actually is.” In Murray (a novelist and critic of comparable stature whose own side of the decade-long exchange can be found in 2000’s Trading Twelves), Ellison found a boon companion with whom he could comfortably revel in the foot-stomping, jump-dancing, blues-shouting verities of their shared cultural references and unfurl freewheeling inquiries into the literary masters (Hemingway, Malraux, and Faulkner, among others) who had nourished them since their respective youths.

more here.