March 1, 1914: Ralph Ellison is born.

Ralph Ellison, named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, was born in Oklahoma City. As a student, he studied music at Tuskegee University for three years before moving to New York City, where he came into contact with Richard Wright - author of Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), and one of the most influential African-American authors of the 20th century, along with Ellison himself. Ellison’s experiences at Tuskegee and in New York and his affiliation and eventual disillusionment with American communist groups heavily influenced his most famous work, Invisible Man (1952). Originally conceived as a short novel, Invisible Man ended up nearly 600 pages long, all of which had been handwritten by Ellison and transferred to type by his wife; within those hundreds of pages, Ellison addressed a wide variety of topics - all centered around personal identity and the role and identity of African-Americans like the novel’s young and naive protagonist in modern American society. 

Invisible Man won the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction just as the African-American Civil Rights Movement was emerging as a fully-realized, national movement. In his acceptance speech, Ellison spoke on what he believed was the significance of his novel, as a piece of fiction:

To see America with an awareness of its rich diversity and its almost magical fluidity and freedom I was forced to conceive of a novel unburdened by the narrow naturalism which has led after so many triumphs to the final and unrelieved despair which marks so much of our current fiction. I was to dream of a prose which was flexible, and swift as American change is swift, confronting the inequalities and brutalities of our society forthrightly, but yet thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization… Despite my personal failures there must be possible a fiction which , leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.

In addition to Invisible Man, Ellison wrote two other novels - Juneteenth and Three Days Before the Shooting…, both published posthumously, along with several essays.

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