Good fiction is made of that which is real, and reality is difficult to come by. – Ralph Ellison
Born in Oklahoma City on this date in 1913, Ellison is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the 1953 National Book Award and catapulted him to worldwide fame.
For the rest of his life – Ellison died in 1994 – he struggled to complete a second novel and never succeeded, although ultimately it was assembled posthumously from his voluminous notes and published as Juneteenth. A noted essayist – both for political and social commentary – he published two major nonfiction works, Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory, and was a frequent contributor to the The New York Times.
Ellison studied at the renowned Tuskegee University where he was admitted on a music scholarship because of his ability with the trumpet. Although he never finished it was his time at Tuskegee that started him along the writing path, which he credited to English teacher Morteza Drezel Sprague. Sprague, he said, “opened his eyes to the possibilities of literature as a living art,” and he began seriously writing after serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II.
One of America’s most honored writers, he was named for two President’s Medals, the State Medal from France, a number of honorary doctorate degrees, including one from Harvard, admission into the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and being the first African-American elected to The Century Association, a private literary and arts club in New York City. “Power, for the writer,” Ellison once said, “lies in his ability to reveal if only a little bit more about the complexity of humanity.”
Share A Writer’s Moment with a friend by clicking the g+1 button below.