Modern Black American Fiction Writers

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Ralph Ellison
1914-1994

RALPH WALDO ELLISON was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.His father, Lewis Ellison, was a construction worker and tradesman who died when Ellison was three. His mother, Ida Millsap, worked as a domestic servant but was active in radical politics for many years. Ellison thrived on the discarded magazines and phonograph records she brought home from the white households where she worked. He attended Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, where he learned the soprano saxophone, trumpet, and other instruments, playing both jazz and light classical music.

In 1933 Ellison began studying music at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.He remained there for three years before coming to New York in 1936, where he held a number of odd jobs while continuing to study music and sculpture. In New York he met Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, who gave him great encouragement in his writing. Ellison's short stories, essays, and reviews began appearing in the Antioch Review, the New Masses, and many other magazines and journals in the late 1930s. At this time his interest in social justice attracted him to the Communist party, although he would later repudiate it. Ellison gained a modicum of financial security in 1938 when he was hired by the Federal Writers' Project to gather folklore and present it in literary form. The four years he spent at this work enriched his own writing by providing source material that would be incorporated into his own fiction.

In 1943, wishing to help in the war effort, Ellison joined the merchant marine. The next year he received a Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship to write a novel; although he mapped out a plot, he failed to finish the work (one section was published as a short story, "Flying Home"). After the war he went to a friend's farm in Vermont to recuperate, and it was here that he conceived the novel that would establish him as a major writer— Invisible Man. He worked on the book for five years, and it was finally published in 1952. This long novel is both a historical biography of the black man in America and an allegory of man's quest for identity. Invisible Man received

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Modern Black American Fiction Writers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Modern Black American Fiction Writers *
  • Contents *
  • User's Guide vi
  • The Life of the Author Harold Bloom vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Maya Angelou B. 1928 1
  • William Attaway 1911-1986 16
  • James Baldwin 1924-1987 29
  • Ralph Ellison 1914-1994 47
  • Chester Himes 1909-1984 64
  • John Oliver Killens 1916-1987 79
  • Paule Marshall B. 1929 93
  • Willard Motley 1909-1965 108
  • Ann Petry B. 1912 122
  • John A. Williams B. 1925 137
  • Frank Yerby 1916-1991 153
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