Skip links

“A Biographical Sketch of one of our very greatest writers, Ralph Ellison, one for all ages and generations”

“A Biographical Sketch of one of our very greatest writers, Ralph Ellison, one for all ages and generations”


My dear fellow lovers of literature and my fellow readers and thinkers, I bid you and ask you to join me in another voyage of intellectual discovery. I welcome you in this quest and task of attaining and coming to know intellectual honesty and honest discernment. Join with me in this voyage of discovery get at and find what is valid and authentic in this present world of great confusion and so come with me in tearing apart the curtain of lies and darkness that hides from us what is truth and facts. 

I now will undertake to speak of and report on a great prose writer, one who is a literary giant for the world and in the world. It is a great and overwhelming privilege and honor and I undertake this work with humility and hesitation. I note that I have in the past in these pages written of such great poets as Keats, Shelley, Byron, Tennyson and Browning, and also such prose writers and novelists as Dickens, Thackeray, Melville, Kipling, Conrad, Steinbeck, Jack London and many, many others. I do not hesitate to say Mr. Ellison in his work is equal to the best. 

Ralph Ellison was born in 1913 and died in 1994. He was an African-American novelist, literary critic and scholar and is and was best known for his novel, The Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award. In 1964 he published a collection of essays entitled Shadow and Act. He also wrote a novel that was published posthumously. 

He was born in Oklahoma. The family moved to Indiana in 1921 and later returned to Oklahoma. His mother remarried three times. Ralph graduated from high school in 1931. He was admitted to the Tuskegee Institute in 1933 for lack of a trumpet player in their orchestra. He studied music in class and spent time in the library studying the modern classics. A major influence on him was his English teacher. He stayed in Tuskegee Institute until 1936 and left without a degree. 

He moved to New York City in 1936. From 1937 to 1944 he published over 20 book reviews and articles and short stories. He became associated with the communist party and wrote for communist publications. He lost faith in the communist party in World War II and then began writing The Invisible Man in response to the party’s betrayal. He married in 1938, and in 1943 the marriage was over. At the start of the Second World War he was eligible for the draft but was not drafted. He then enlisted in the Merchant Marine. He married again in 1946, and his wife supported him while he worked on his great novel, The Invisible Man, which was published in 1952. The novel explores a person’s search for identity and place in society. In 1964 he published a collection of essays and taught at several colleges. The following year a poll was released which stated the novel, The Invisible Man, was the most important novel since World War II. In 1967 there was a fire in his house in Plainfield, Mass. which claimed many pages of his second novel. He ultimately wrote over 2000 pages of his second novel but never finished it. He died in 1994 of cancer. 

He received many awards and much recognition. The Invisible Man won the National Book Award for fiction in 1953. At his death more manuscripts were discovered in his home in 1996 and his second novel was found in 1999.

Ralph Ellison wrote a very great novel, The Invisible Man, which has endured and will endure for many future generations. His place is secure in the literary pantheon and I urge all who read this essay to read and obtain this book. It is one of the greats never to be forgotten. I have not read his other works and I am sure I would greatly benefit from knowing and reading all his work. Make haste, dear friends, to read The Invisible Man and Mr. Ellison’s other works. 


I acknowledge my debt in this essay to the Wikipedia article on this author.