By Arnold Rampersad
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780375408274, 672pp.)
Publication Date: April 24, 2007
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The definitive biography of one of the most important American writers and cultural intellectuals of the twentieth century—Ralph Ellison, author of the masterpiece Invisible Man.
In 1953, Ellison’s explosive story of an innocent young black man’s often surreal search for truth and his identity won him the National Book Award for fiction and catapulted him to national prominence. Ellison went on to earn many other honors, including two presidential medals and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but his failure to publish a second novel, despite years of striving, haunted him for the rest of his life. Now, as the first scholar given complete access to Ellison’s papers, Arnold Rampersad has written not only a reliable account of the main events of Ellison’s life but also a complex, authoritative portrait of an unusual artist and human being.
Born poor and soon fatherless in 1913, Ralph struggled both to belong to and to escape from the world of his childhood. We learn here about his sometimes happy, sometimes harrowing years growing up in Oklahoma City and attending Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Arriving in New York in 1936, he became a political radical before finally embracing the cosmopolitan intellectualism that would characterize his dazzling cultural essays, his eloquent interviews, and his historic novel. The second half of his long life brought both widespread critical acclaim and bitter disputes with many opponents, including black cultural nationalists outraged by what they saw as his elitism and misguided pride in his American citizenship.
This biography describes a man of magnetic personality who counted Saul Bellow, Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wright, Richard Wilbur, Albert Murray, and John Cheever among his closest friends; a man both admired and reviled, whose life and art were shaped mainly by his unyielding desire to produce magnificent art and by his resilient faith in the moral and cultural strength of America.
A magisterial biography of Ralph Waldo Ellison—a revelation of the man, the writer, and his times.
Arnold Rampersad is Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities and a member of the Department of English at Stanford University. His books include biographies of Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson, and he collaborated with Arthur Ashe on his memoir, Days of Grace. He has written for The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and The Washington Post, and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He lives in Stanford, California.