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Ralph Ellison Books

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Ellison's classic novel about an unnamed African-American man and his journey through America is considered one of the defining novels of the twentieth century. By giving a voice to the black experience, Ellison helped us see a truth about all of humanity. It is the only novel Ellison completed during his lifetime, but was enough to define Ellison as one of the most important writers of his generation.

Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (1964)

"Even if Ralph Ellison were not the author of Invisible Man, his recent collection of essays, Shadow and Act, would be a very significant work,"_CITATION29_ wrote Robert Penn Warren in a 1965 review of Ellison's second book. The essays shed light on Ellison's personal development as an artist and his search for identity.

Ralph Ellison, Going to the Territory (1986)

In his second essay collection, Ellison drew from roughly 30 years of material to produce a book that covered everything from art and culture to history and religion. It contains thought-provoking essays like "What America Would Be Like Without Blacks," as well as pieces that honor Richard Wright and Duke Ellington.

Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth (1999)

Ellison spent the last forty years of his life working on his second essay. He died without finishing it, leaving behind roughly 2,000 pages of material and rough drafts. A few years after his death, his literary executor edited those pages down to about 360, and released that version of the novel. Some people think it's a hack job, while others see a glimpse of the extraordinarily ambitious literary goal Ellison set for himself. Read it and decide for yourself.

Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography (2007)

This is a comprehensive biography of Ellison, written by Stanford professor Arnold Rampersad. Rampersad writes with unsparing candor about his subject, illuminating both his intellectual achievements and his human flaws. It is by far the best guide to the person behind Invisible Man.

Jerry Gafio Watts, Heroism and the Black Intellectual (1994)

How do African-American intellectuals define themselves in a society that is so often hostile to their creative and professional development? This interesting book explores the case of black intellectuals, using Ellison as the prime example. Watts argues that, by finding his own space to express himself, Ellison opened the door for other black thinkers and creators.

Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes: Vols. I & II (1986, 1988)

Professor Rampersad undertook this sprawling two-part biography of Langston Hughes prior to writing Ellison's, and the two studies complement one another. Hughes was an invaluable mentor to Ellison, introducing him both to Richard Wright and to his second wife Fanny McConnell. Reading about Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance sets the stage for Ellison's generation of African-American artists and intellectuals.

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