Dimensions: 672 Pages, 6.69 × 9.45 × 1.57 in
Published: April 24, 2007
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0375408274
ISBN - 13: 9780375408274
Read from the Book
Chapter One In the Territory: 1913–1931 There is no ancestor so powerful as one’s earlier selves. —Lewis Mumford (1929) Decades after the blazing hot afternoon in June 1933 when Ralph Ellison, in his first and last outing as a hobo, climbed fearfully and yet eagerly aboard a smoky freight train leaving Oklahoma City on a dangerous journey that he hoped would take him to college in Tuskegee, Alabama, his memories of growing up in Oklahoma continued both to haunt and to inspire him. For a long time he had suppressed those memories; then the time came when he began to crave them. The turning point had been his triumph in 1952 with his novel Invisible Man. That success had led to a cascading flow of honors such as no other African-American writer had ever enjoyed. In 1953, he won the National Book Award, besting The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, one of his idols. Later, the American Academy of Arts and Letters elected him a member, one of the fifty distinguished American men and women who formed its inner core. At the White House, first Lyndon B. Johnson and then Ronald Reagan awarded him presidential medals. At the behest of the novelist and critic André Malraux, another of his idols, France made him a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. The most venerable social club in America connected to the arts, the Century, in New York, elected him as its first black member. Harvard University, awarding him an honorary degree, offered him a profe
From the Publisher
The definitive biography of one of the most important American
writers and cultural intellectuals of the twentieth century-Ralph
Ellison, author of the masterpiece Invisible Man.
In 1953, Ellison's explosive story of an innocent young black man's
often surreal search for truth and his identity won him the
National Book Award for fiction and catapulted him to national
prominence. Ellison went on to earn many other honors, including
two presidential medals and election to the American Academy of
Arts and Letters, but his failure to publish a second novel,
despite years of striving, haunted him for the rest of his life.
Now, as the first scholar given complete access to Ellison's
papers, Arnold Rampersad has written not only a reliable account of
the main events of Ellison's life but also a complex, authoritative
portrait of an unusual artist and human being.
Born poor and soon fatherless in 1913, Ralph struggled both to
belong to and to escape from the world of his childhood. We learn
here about his sometimes happy, sometimes harrowing years growing
up in Oklahoma City and attending Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Arriving in New York in 1936, he became a political radical before
finally embracing the cosmopolitan intellectualism that would
characterize his dazzling cultural essays, his eloquent interviews,
and his historic novel. The second half of his long life brought
both widespread critical acclaim and bitter disputes with many
opponents, including black cultural nationalists outraged by what
they saw as his elitism and misguided pride in his American
This biography describes a man of magnetic personality who counted
Saul Bellow, Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wright,
Richard Wilbur, Albert Murray, and John Cheever among his closest
friends; a man both admired and reviled, whose life and art were
shaped mainly by his unyielding desire to produce magnificent art
and by his resilient faith in the moral and cultural strength of
A magisterial biography of Ralph Waldo Ellison-a revelation of the
man, the writer, and his times.
From the Jacket
Praise for Ralph Ellison
"Illuminating and richly reported . . ."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Absorbing . . . stunning."
-South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Riveting . . . exhaustive . . . an intensely researched,
elegantly written book"
-Los Angeles Times Book Review
"In this tremendous biography, Rampersad brings Ellison back
down to human scale, relating the writer's remarkable, deeply sad
life with reportorial flare and unflinching honesty . . .
Rampersad's is a deeply sympathetic biography, but by no means
excessively forgiving. Here is Ellison full of rage and talent,
vain and ambitious, but fired by a deep moral clarity."
-Sunday Star Ledger
"With the publication of Arnold Rampersad's Ralph
Ellison, we have the first comprehensive treatment . . .
elegant and lively prose . . . we now have a 'mighty' biography of
this quintessential American life."
"Immensely engaging . . . in Rampersad's hands, Ellison's life
emerges as one of the essential literary lives of the 20th century
. . . Rampersad's exemplary biography, written with a blend of deep
sympathy and cool detachment, splendidly achieves the one true task
of literary biography: it illuminates the life so that we may
better understand what it produced."
"Thorough and insightful."
"Marvelous . . . In style and structure, Ralph Ellison: A
Biography is, like its subject, unfailingly elegant."
"Compelling and insightful."
-The Washington Times
"A jewel-like level of social detail . . . illuminate[s] not
just the development of the author's vision, but the complex
contexts that shape literary creation."
-Austin American Statesman
"A dependable reference, a compelling story, a cautionary tale
. . . Rampersad has triumphed."
-The Plain Dealer
"Important . . . the definitive life . . . skillfully written,
-The New York Sun
"Rampersad addresses the nature of Ellison's psyche and makes
reasonable connections between Ellison's personal experiences and
his writing, and he avoids psychoanalystic overdetermination and
cheap mirror work between lived events and the written word. Along
similar lines, he deftly deals with the salacious material that a
weaker hand would overplay"
"Compassionate yet devastating . . . subtle insight,
painstaking scholarship and elegant presentation"
"Absorbing . . . fascinating."
-Black Florida Life and Style
"An invaluable contribution . . . Arnold Rampersad's biography
of Ellison is a reserved, dignified, thoroughly researched and
well-paced study of the life of one of America's greatest authors.
Unlike many literary biographers, who perform hackneyed
psychoanalysis or amateur literary criticism on their subjects'
lives and works, Rampersad sticks to the events of Ellison's life,
rendering them with a refreshing objectivity seldom found in our
-San Francisco Chronicle
"Sumptuously researched . . . his subtlety shines."
-The Star Tribune (St. Paul)
"What a wonderful biography this is, filled with intelligence and
understanding of its subject and all the varied milieus in which he
lived his long and wonderful life . . . Mr. Rampersad writes so
beautifully, so evocatively, that every page of Ralph
Ellison is a pleasure to read . . . it is hard to imagine
anyone more attuned to him, more insightful, more truly sympathetic
than Mr. Rampersad, who has written the definitive biography of
this great American."
"Ralph Ellison is a classic work of erudition, grace, and
elegance. Rampersad offers us an Ellison whose gifts and warts
orbit the same universe of creative genius. Like Ellison's work,
Rampersad's text wrestles eloquently with difficult truths about
race, politics, and American life."
-Michael Eric Dyson
"Arnold Rampersad's stunningly revealing biography has, at long
last, unveiled-in magisterial prose-the very complex and vulnerable
man behind Ralph Ellison's own masks and myths. One of the nation's
most brilliant writers emerges as all the more fascinating
precisely because he was so very human. Painstakingly researched
and compellingly written, Ralph Ellison is a masterwork of
the genre of literary biography."
-Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is probably the Great
American Novel. Arnold Rampersad's long-awaited and beautifully
spun Ralph Ellison is a great American
-David Levering Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for
"Ralph Ellison's place in American literature demands a biography
that is as eloquent, thorough and wise as its subject. This is it.
The book represents a flawless match of biographer and subject--in
Arnold Rampersad's hands we fathom both the burden and measure of
Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
"Arnold Rampersad's biography of Ralph Ellison is the fullest and
most authoritative study of Ellison's life and work to date. A
celebration and defense of a triumphant and heroic life, it is
bluntly unhagiographic and painstakingly attentive to Ellison's
foibles. Ralph Ellison is at once an astute portrait of a
complicated man and a social and literary history of his times-a
major book on a major American writer."
-Daniel Aaron, author, Writers on the Left
"Ralph Ellison: A Biography portrays with unusual insight
one of the most elusive figures in the history of American
literature. Whether treating Ellison's controversial aloofness from
civil rights militancy, his passionate lifelong effort to
understand America, or the long gestation and writing of
Invisible Man, every page of Rampersad's richly detailed
portrait dramatizes one of Ellison's favorite words:
-Kenneth Silverman, author, Edgar A. Poe, and winner of
the Pulitzer Prize
"Like Richard Ellmann on James Joyce, Arnold Rampersad on Ralph
Ellison is in a class of its own. His masterful and magisterial
book is the most powerful and profound treatment of Ellison's
undeniable artistic genius, deep personal flaws, and controversial
political evolution. And he reveals an Ellison unbeknownst to all
of us. From now on, all serious scholarship on Ellison must begin
with Rampersad's instant and inimitable classic in literary
-- Cornel West
About the Author
Arnold Rampersad is Sara Hart Kimball Professor in
the Humanities and a member of the Department of English at
Stanford University. His books include biographies of Langston
Hughes and Jackie Robinson, and he collaborated with Arthur Ashe on
his memoir, Days of Grace. He has written for The New
York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and The
Washington Post, and is an elected member of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical
Society. He lives in Stanford, California.
Praise for Ralph Ellison “Illuminating and richly reported . . .” - The New York Times Book Review “Absorbing . . . stunning.” - South Florida Sun-Sentinel “Riveting . . . exhaustive . . . an intensely researched, elegantly written book” - Los Angeles Times Book Review “In this tremendous biography, Rampersad brings Ellison back down to human scale, relating the writer’s remarkable, deeply sad life with reportorial flare and unflinching honesty . . . Rampersad’s is a deeply sympathetic biography, but by no means excessively forgiving. Here is Ellison full of rage and talent, vain and ambitious, but fired by a deep moral clarity.” - Sunday Star Ledger “With the publication of Arnold Rampersad’s Ralph Ellison , we have the first comprehensive treatment . . . elegant and lively prose . . . we now have a ‘mighty’ biography of this quintessential American life.” - Charlotte Observor “Immensely engaging . . . in Rampersad’s hands, Ellison’s life emerges as one of the essential literary lives of the 20th century . . . Rampersad’s exemplary biography, written with a blend of deep sympathy and cool detachment, splendidly achieves the one true task of literary biography: it illuminates the life so that we may better understand what it produced.” - Houston Chronicle “Thorough and insightful.” - American Heritage “Marvelous . . . In style and structure