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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.