Born: 1 March 1914
Died: 16 April 1994 (pancreatic cancer)
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Best known as: Author of Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison won the National Book Award for his first novel Invisible Man (1952), the story of an alienated and isolated black man living in racially repressive urban America. Ellison grew up in Oklahoma and aimed for a career in jazz music. Instead he moved to New York City in 1936 and turned to writing, encouraged by other African-American writers including Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. During World War II he served in the Merchant Marines and published short stories. The remarkable success of Invisible Man made Ellison famous worldwide and he was suddenly considered one of America's most important writers. Reluctant to assume the role of a representative for his race, Ellison always maintained that in writing his book he was pursuing art more than he was pursuing racial justice. Although he lectured and published collections of essays (Shadow and Act in 1964 and Going to the Territory in 1986), he worked for forty years on a second novel without finishing it. His literary executor and friend, John Callahan, put together the manuscript after Ellison died and the novel was published as Juneteenth in 1999.
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