What Ralph Ellison did... and why you should care
On 1 March 1913, an African-American couple in Oklahoma City had their first baby boy. The father, a great lover of literature, named his son Ralph Waldo Ellison and believed that his boy would also grow up to be a poet.
Ralph Ellison did turn out to be a man of letters and, like his namesake, sought out universal truths through his art. In 1952, Ellison published Invisible Man, the story of a nameless African-American man navigating America during the mid-twentieth century. Influenced by an artistic heritage that ranged from jazz to Ernest Hemingway, Ellison sought to transcend the racial categories that so starkly divided America in the 1950s. However, as the Civil Rights Movement progressed, Ellison often found himself the target of black critics who accused him of choosing acceptance by white society over his African-American identity. Ralph Ellison rejected the idea that he should stand for any particular ideology. He was an artist, first and foremost.
When he died in 1994, Ellison left behind a literary legacy of critical essays, short stories, 2,000 pages of an unfinished novel, and, of course, Invisible Man. In writing the story of a man who wished to be invisible, Ralph Ellison helped us see ourselves.