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In 1945, with no idea what the next words would be or even precisely what the sentence meant, Ralph Ellison sat down at his typewriter and wrote: "I am an invisible man." He spent the next seven years exploring the meaning of those five words, and when he was finished he had a masterpiece. Invisible Man is Ellison's sprawling, ambitious saga about a nameless African-American man navigating the dangers and prejudices of pre-Civil Rights Movement America. When the novel was published in 1952 it quickly emerged as one of the most important novels in American literature. "One is accustomed to expect excellent novels about boys," the writer Saul Bellow wrote in an admiring review, "but a modern novel about men is exceedingly rare." Ellison jokingly told an interviewer in 1982. He didn't have to. It turns out that one triumph in a lifetime is enough.