Best Known For
Ralph Ellison was a 20th century African-American writer and scholar best known for his renowned, award-winning novel Invisible Man.
After his death, author and longtime Harlem resident Ralph Ellison was honored with the "Invisible Man" Memorial near his home at 150th Street and Riverside Drive.
Built in 1939, the Lenox Lounge was a hub of Harlem’s cultural life, attracting famous regulars like Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes. In December 2012, the Lenox Lounge closed its doors with plans to open at a new address.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Ralph Ellison, born on March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, studied music before moving to New York City and working as a writer. He published his bestselling, acclaimed first novel Invisible Man in 1952; it would be seen as a seminal work on marginalization from an African-American protagonist's perspective. Ellison's unfinished novel Juneteenth was published posthumously in 1999.
"If the Negro, or any other writer, is going to do what is expected of him, he's lost the battle before he takes the field. I suspect that all the agony that goes into writing is borne precisely because the writer longs for acceptance—but it must be acceptance on his own terms."
"Anything and everything was to be found in the chaos of Oklahoma; thus the concept of the Renaissance Man has lurked long within the shadow of my past, and I shared it with at least a half dozen of my Negro friends."
"So on a farm in Vermont, where I was reading The Hero by Lord Raglan and speculating on the nature of Negro leadership in the U.S., I wrote the first paragraph of Invisible Man, and was soon involved in the struggle of creating the novel."
"Looked at historically, there is no question but that this society started out with a divided mind, if not with a divided conscience. Its founders asserted the noble idea of creating a free, open society while retaining slavery, a system in direct contradiction to their rhetorically inclusive concept of freedom."
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and named after journalist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison's doting father, Lewis, who loved children and read books voraciously, worked as an ice and coal deliverer. He died from a work-related accident when Ellison was only three years old. His mother Ida then raised Ralph and younger brother Herbert by herself, working a variety of jobs to make ends meet.
In his future book of essays Shadow and Act, Ellison described himself and several of his friends growing up as young Renaissance Men, people who looked to culture and intellectualism as a source of identity. A budding instrumentalist, Ellison took up the cornet at the age of 8 and years later, as a trumpeter, attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he studied music with his eye on becoming a symphony composer.
In 1936, Ellison went to New York over the summer with the intent of earning enough money to pay for his college expenses, but ended up relocating. He started to work as a researcher and writer for the New York Federal Writers Program, and was befriended by writers Richard Wright, Langston Hughes and Alan Locke, who all mentored the fledgling scribe. During this period, Ellison began to publish some of his essays and short stories, and worked as managing editor for The Negro Quarterly.
Ellison later enlisted as a Merchant Marine cook during World War II. Married briefly before, in 1946 he wed Fanny McConnell, and the two would remain together for the rest of Ellison's life.
Ellison started writing what would become The Invisible Man while at a friend's farm in Vermont. The existential novel, published in 1952, focused on an African-American civil rights worker from the South who, upon his move to New York, becomes increasingly alienated due to the racism he encounters. Upon its release, Invisible Man became a runaway hit, remaining on bestseller lists for weeks and winning the National Book Award the following year. With millions of copies eventually printed, the novel would be regarded as a groundbreaking meditation on race and marginalized communities in America, influencing future generations of writers and thinkers.
Ellison traveled throughout Europe in the mid-1950s, and lived in Rome for two years after becoming an American Academy fellow. He continued writing—publishing a collection of essays in 1964, Shadow and Act—and taught at colleges and universities, including Bard College and New York University. He published his second collection of essays, Going to the Territory, in 1986, yet was stalled over the decades from completing his second novel, which he envisioned as a great American saga.
profile name: Ralph Ellison profile occupation:
Sign in with Facebook to see how you and your friends are connected to famous icons.
Your Friends' Connections
Included In These Groups
After the Civil War, many of the country's best and brightest black advocates, artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals moved to the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Thanks largely to the efforts of these residents, Harlem became both the cradle of a cultural revolution and the heart of the civil rights movement. Meet some of the many people who gave—and continue to give—this neighborhood a voice, simply by calling it home.
Famous Harlem Residents 62 people in this group
They are the famous African-American writers who have fearlessly examined cultural stigmas, provided intimate life details, presented new ideas and created remarkable fiction through literary works. For their prophetic genius, these men and women have received Pulitzer Prizes, NAACP awards and even Nobel Prizes, among other honors. Our list of prominent African-American authors includes Toni Morrison, who has detailed the lives of black characters who struggle with identity amidst racism and hostility; Langston Hughes, a founder of the Harlem Renaissance; and Maya Angelou, who has eloquently chronicled various eras of her life through her autobiographies.
Famous Black Writers 38 people in this group
America wouldn't be what it is today without Hollywood, and it certainly wouldn't be the same without its armed forces. Military veterans make the ultimate contribution to society—they put their lives on the line for their country. Since the nation's founding, the dedication and bravery of soldiers has been the a key pillar on which the United States stands. From Revolutionary War heroes to Vietnam veterans, here's a look at famous military veterans.
Famous Military Veterans 211 people in this group