Blog Post

Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison

Following yesterday’s post about Toni Morrison, today, I focused on Ralph Ellison, another author in the “100 Novels Collection” Similar to my examining his novel’s Wikipedia page on last week, Ellison’s personal page provided interesting discoveries as well.

Ellison is known most for his novel Invisible Man published in 1952. However, an examination of his Wikipedia page revealed that the first chapter of the novel, “Battle Royal,” actually was a short story at first.

A closer look at the Wikipedia pages of black authors and their works lends insight into how African American literature is framed to broad internet audiences. Perhaps, more attention should be placed on Wikipedia and how it shapes impressions of black writing.

What Wikipedia Taught Me About Ralph Ellison

  • I learned that Ralph Ellison, named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Lewis Alfred Ellison and Ida Millsap.
  • I learned that In 1933, Ellison entered the Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship to study music. Tuskegee's music department was perhaps the most renowned department at the school, headed by the conductor William L. Dawson.
  • I learned that He specifically cited reading The Waste Land as a major awakening moment for him.
  • I learned that after Wright moved to New York to study visual arts, he met author Richard Wright, with whom he would have a long and complicated relationship. After Ellison wrote a book review for Wright, Wright encouraged Ellison to pursue a career in writing, specifically fiction.
  • From 1937 to 1944 Ellison had over twenty book reviews as well as short stories and articles published in magazines such as New Challenge and New Masses.
  • I learned that Ellison’s Invisible Man, with its treatment of taboo issues such as incest and the controversial subject of communism, won the National Book Award in 1953.
  • I learned that in 1964, Ellison published Shadow and Act, a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers University and Yale University, while continuing to work on his novel. The following year, a survey of 200 prominent literary figures was released that proclaimed Invisible Man the most important novel since World War II.
  • I learned that in 1975, Ellison was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and his hometown of Oklahoma City honored him with the dedication of the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library. Continuing to teach, Ellison published mostly essays, and in 1984, he received the New York City College's Langston Hughes Medal. In 1985, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
  • I learned that Ellison was also an accomplished sculptor, musician, photographer and college professor.
  • I learned that In 1999, five years after his death, Ellison's second novel, Juneteenth, was published under the editorship of John F. Callahan, a professor at Lewis & Clark College and Ellison's literary executor. It was a 368-page condensation of more than 2000 pages written by Ellison over a period of forty years.

[Related: 30 Days of 100 Novels]

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